Wednesday, April 19, 2017


RESURRECTION BAY by Emma Viksic (Echo Publishing, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside - watching, picking up telltale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss. When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This is a highly original Australian crime debut that thoroughly deserved the acclaim and awards it racked up last year. On one weekend Viskic found herself accepting four awards - three Davitts (Best Debut, Best Novel, Readers Choice), along with the Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut. RESURRECTION BAY had also won iBook Australia's Crime Novel of the Year for 2015.

That's quite a pedigree. But it raises a question: is RESURRECTION BAY a great find for a wide range of crime readers, or one of those books more appreciated by aficionados and awards judges?

As someone who's been an awards judge as well as a longtime crime omnivore who enjoys a wide range of crime novels, including some that would get short shrift in awards but are just fun reads, I think that RESURRECTION BAY is a terrific book that would appeal to many crime readers.

'Deaf Man Investigates Friend's Death': an obvious headline, but this book is about much more than just its main character's deafness. It never feels like Viskic uses Caleb's disability as a character quirk to make him memorable or stand out in a crowded crime field. It infuses his personality and his story, and feels an organic part of a greater whole, rather than something thrown in to 'be original'. There's a real sense of authenticity, while at the same time Caleb isn't just a 'deaf hero' in a token way.

In fact Caleb's deafness doesn't so much define him, as it plays into how he interacts with the world around him, and it reacts to him. He's an intelligent observer, who reads other people's body language and perceives nuances that others miss. But then he also misses things himself.

Caleb is a well-crafted character that is much more than the sum of his traits, but he's not the only well-drawn character in RESURRECTION BAY. Viskic does a great job bringing her entire cast to vivid and authentic life. Her setting, Melbourne and the rural and small-town areas surrounding it, is populated with a diverse cast that epitomises that cultural melting pot of modern-day Australia.

This is a book that will get a reaction from you. Viskic draws us into Caleb's tale, and makes us care. Makes us get frustrated with characters, feel for them, fear for them. Powered by lean but fresh prose, it's an interesting, assured and excellent debut with very few missteps, which also brings a deaf perspective on the world to life on the page. I'm looking forward to more crime novels from Viskic.

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, appeared at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, 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

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