Wednesday, February 24, 2016


CRUCIFIXION CREEK by Barry Maitland (Minotaur, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A series of deaths in Sydney could be just the everyday violence of a modern metropolis, but a journalist thinks there are sinister links and soldier-turned-detective Harry Belltree isn't going to the let the matter lie even when he's sidelined from a case for personal reasons. 

The first book in a planned trilogy from Australian crime master Barry Maitland is an absorbing tale that fair rockets along, and shows plenty of promise for what is to come.

CRUCIFIXION CREEK is centred on army vet Harry Belltree, the son of a famous aboriginal judge, who's traded evading death among the flying bullets of Afghanistan for investigating death as a homicide detective in Sydney. Harry has some talents as a cop, but also carries plenty of baggage. His parents were killed in a car crash that blinded his wife. He thinks there was something sinister involved, although it was ruled an accident, and his friends and family think his inability to let it go has devolved into obsession.

Sydney is a big city like any other - packed to the gunnels with people trying to scrabble for the best life they can. Some of its citizens have no compunction crossing the legal line to better their own situation, even at the expense of others' lives. So a meth-addled biker gunning down a woman during a siege, an elderly couple deciding they've had enough and committing suicide, and a tradesman being stabbed one night are terrible but not particularly peculiar incidents. Just the everyday crime that gives Harry and his homicide colleagues their job security.

But when the tradesman turns out to be Harry's financially troubled brother-in-law, and journalist Kelly Pool thinks the three incidents are all linked to a dodgy financier with a murky past, Harry Belltree needs to call on the soldier inside him as much as - or more than - the copper. It turns out he may have left a third world war zone but will still have to evade death in Sydney too.

CRUCIFIXION CREEK hurtles along very smoothly. Maitland does a great job sucking us into Harry's world, and crafting some depth of character in among all the dark and violent incidents. I really enjoyed getting to know Harry and his cast-mates as the story unfolded. Maitland plants the seeds for lots of later reveals, in this book and beyond into a longer series. At times I felt the plotting seemed pretty linear, but overall the combination of action, characterisation, and setting was very good and kept me fully engaged. I'll certainly read more of Harry Belltree's adventures.

Craig Sisterson is a features writer from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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