Wednesday, June 21, 2017


FOUR DAYS by Iain Ryan (Broken River Books, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

BRISBANE, 1984. Jim Harris is a hard-drinking Australian detective on his way to a nervous breakdown. Every day, he works alongside corrupt cops and dangerous crooks. That is, until a brutal murder case unravels his career, bringing past indiscretions to light. Alone, afraid, and out of control, Harris makes a pact with himself: Four days to locate the killer. Four days to take revenge. Four days to find redemption

This slim novel packs a powerful punch. It isn't always comfortable reading, but it's pitch-black classic noir of the highest order - all the more remarkable given it's a debut from Queensland author Ryan.

Four Days is beyond gritty - it's grimy, seamy, like a dirty fingernail scratching at your skin as you saunter down a rancid alleyway. It's unpleasant. Many characters are unlikable. Corruption festers. But it's also fascinating, and has a strong voice and atmosphere. The pages whir on currents of fresh prose. This won't be for everyone, but overall it's a very slick tale that is very good. 

Jim Harris is a detective who's barely hanging on. He's not just living on the edge, he's crossed far over it at times. They say you can tell a lot about a person from the people they spend the most time with: for Harris this is crooked cops, drug users and prostitutes, and dangerous criminals.

For all his own very-many faults, Harris seems to be the only detective interested in the death of a prostitute and the troubling disappearance of her brother, a fellow cop. He has four days until he gets his own life or death news. Four days to wade through the swamp of Australian policing in the 1980s, to find the truth, expose a killer/s, and maybe snatch at a tiny sliver of redemption.

There's a terrific blend of Aussie-ness with classic American noir here. Ryan brings the 1980s Australian setting to vivid life, delivered in sharp prose. Hot and sticky coastal towns, where corruption festers among those meant to serve and protect the citizenry. 

This is a very well-written book, centred on a very unlikable central 'hero'. Harris has few redeeming qualities, but is fascinating, and Ryan creates a really strong narrative drive throughout Four Days, pulling you along even as you may be holding your nose, shaking your head, or grimacing in disgust at some of the scenes and the choices made by various characters.

It is not a book for the faint-hearted, or those easily put off by stories of illegal and immoral acts committed by those on both sides of the law.

If you want your heroes good and your villains bad, and never the twain shall meet, avoid Four Days. But if you can handle a fascinatingly dark tale of corruption and self-destruction, where the hero not only stumbles but falls, where only wisps of honour separate the evil from the less-bad, then dive in. 

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 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

No comments:

Post a Comment