I’ve whined before about a distinct absence of “metropolitan cops” in this new age of Australian crime fiction. Los Angeles has Bosch. Edinburgh has Rebus. Quebec has Gamache. Galway has Reilly. New Orleans has Robicheaux. Once upon a time, Sydney had Cliff Hardy and Scobie Malone. Melbourne had Jack Irish. But the notion of the quintessential city detective seems to have faded. Australian crime fiction has turned its focus to our harsh landscape. Geography has become king. And used to great effect. But where are the stories that flip the coin, and tackle our big cities? Here’s one — Katherine Firkin’s debut, Sticks and Stones.
What begins as a routine investigation into the disappearance of a beloved mother quickly turns into the hunt for a merciless serial killer lead by Melbourne Detective Emmett Corban, head of the Missing Persons Unit. Corban’s unencumbered by the tropes of many series leads. He’s as clean-cut as they come, a dedicated husband and father, and a staunchly focused investigator, almost glowing with integrity. Presumably some kind of tragedy awaits him in future instalments. Cops in crime fiction never remain blindingly righteous for long. He’s kind of a blank canvas, at this point, this being his premiere, which works, because it means the pacy plot is the engine of the novel. And it certainly thrums.
Structurally Sticks and Stones reminds me of Harlan Coben and Cara Hunter; short, taut chapters, regular changes of perspective and flashbacks maintain its acceleration. It’s chockfull of thrills rather than chills. When there’s violence on the page it’s fleeting rather than gratuitous or stomach churning. Firkin’s objective seems to be to speed up the readers’ page-turn, make the experience as breathless and twisty as possible, rather than terrify and unnerve. She succeeds. Firkin knows her craft. A fine start for an exciting new series.
Published: 2 June 2020
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback