At the beginning of a scorching summer day in Sydney, NSW Police Inspector Scobie Malone is roused by his daughter. There’s a dead man floating in their backyard pool. He was an informant named Scungy Grime, who Malone had been using for information about a major drug-dealing operation. The subtle innovation of Grime’s death — injected with curare — clashes with the exhibitive display of his corpse, which Malone takes as a warning to back off and keep his nose out of Sydney’s illicit drug trade. Of course, he doesn’t: by forcibly coalescing his personal and professional lives, the killer has ensured Malone will stop at nothing to find them, and decimate the drug ring.
Jon Cleary plots conscientiously but prosaically in “Dark Summer,” the ninth entry in the Scobie Malone series, published in 1992. He makes the strange storytelling decision of keeping readers a couple steps ahead of Malone with one facet of his investigation, which undercuts all its tension, and completely unravels the mystery before it’s properly threaded. This is discordant with its conjoined narrative, which reads as a conventional police procedural, the perp unknown: Malone and his partner Russ Clements methodically interviewing suspects and witnesses, working their way towards identifying the serial poisoner, whose kill count rises steeply.
Most of the pleasures I derived from this stemmed from Cleary’s depiction of Sydney in the early 90s. Malone’s case is strictly formulaic.