Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Stella Hardy is a wisecracking social worker with a thirst for social justice, good laksa, and alcohol. When a young African boy, the son of one of her clients, has been murdered in a dingy back alley, Stella, in her forties and running low on empathy, heads into the night to comfort the grieving mother. But when she gets there, she makes a discovery that has the potential to uncover something terrible from her past — something she thought she'd gotten away with.
Then Stella's neighbour Tania mysteriously vanishes. When Stella learns that Tania is the heir to a billion-dollar mining empire, she realises her glamorous young friend might have had more up her sleeve than just a perfectly toned arm. Who is behind her disappearance?
Enlisting the help of her friend, Senior Constable Phuong Nguyen, Stella's investigation draws her further and further into a dark world of drug dealers, sociopaths, and killers, such as the enigmatic Mr Funsail, whose name makes even hardened criminals run for cover.
I really enjoyed this Australian crime novel from a debutant author with clear storytelling talent. GOOD MONEY, touted as the first Stella Hardy novel, is one of those books that's good across the board - good characters, a good crime plotline, interesting prose that's smooth but with enough of a unique voice to seem fresh, and a well-evoked contemporary setting (both the physical place, and some of the social issues entwined with that place and the people living their lives there).
There's also a really nice vein of humour running throughout the book. Some of the themes and events in GOOD MONEY are very dark, but Green does a great job balancing things with humour and quirky wee things here and there, so it never gets too bleak, fatiguing, or depressing.
Stella Hardy is one of those people full of good intentions, and wanting to do the right thing (even though she feels jaded and all out of empathy at times), but who often manages to get herself 'up shit creek without a paddle', as we'd say down our part of the world. She's a bit of a trouble-magnet.
Although Hardy comes across as a bit gruff at the start, I found her very engaging overall, and was easily drawn in to follow her along as the social worker looks into a murder in one of her client families, as well as the disappearance of her neighbour. She's a good central character, with Green drip-feeding us more information about her background throughout the book. We get a good sense of a rounded person, full of complexities and a variety of experiences that have shaped her.
Green also did a very good job with the settings, capturing a variety of places that make up modern-day Australia, from stratified living and increasing multiculturalism in urban areas, to the changing face of country life in a nation where farmers and farmers were once the backbone of the economy. Now, it is the massive mining industry that drives money flow in Australia, but may be fool's gold.
Overall, GOOD MONEY is very good debut, that introduces both a fresh new voice in antipodean crime writing, and an engaging heroine who has the potential to be a strong series character.
I look forward to whatever comes next from JM Green and Stella Hardy.
Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson