Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review: JINX

JINX by Hugh McGinlay (Three Kookaburras, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

One Spring morning a woman is found dead in a Melbourne laneway adorned with symbols of the occult. Catherine Kint, milliner, gin enthusiast and raconteur, has no reason to be involved until her friend is under investigation. Armed with her sharp wit, a crime scene background and a barman named Boris, Catherine walks into a world of new age prophecies, curses and money. Honestly, it would drive a girl to drink.

Down in New Zealand and Australia, we have a breakfast spread that's loved by many, but often hated by those from other countries who try it for the first time, and can't understand the appeal: Vegemite. 

So to say something is 'a bit Vegemite', means it may provoke differing, strong reactions in people - ie some love it, some may hate it. Why I bring this up is that Hugh McGinlay's debut JINX is what I'd describe as a bit of a Vegemite book. It's style may lure some, while putting off others. For me, it really clicked. 

There's a freshness and originality to some of McGinlay's prose, and JINX has a distinct narrative voice - that's something I appreciate in crime writing, when even when reading some pretty good books things can 'sound' a bit samey or non-distinct in terms of the narrative voice. For me, I appreciated the fact that JINX had a real energy to its story, a quirkiness and sense of fun while delivering a good mystery story. 

I think McGinlay struck the balance well, creating something with zing and originality while not overwhelming the mystery storyline or 'trying to hard', as some authors do. Forcing difference in character, prose, or storyline that becomes jarring rather than organic - obvious 'author hand'. 

JINX has some interesting characters, rippling out from heroine and accidental amateur sleuth Catherine Kint to her various pals and acquaintances. McGinlay also captures a really strong sense of the inner-city Melbourne hipster vibe, a world of cafes, mopeds, and fashion-conscious gin lovers. While I think the style and characters in JINX could grate for some readers, I felt that McGinlay struck a good chord in his debut, providing some not-too-heavy, entertaining crime fiction with a bit of pizzazz. Kint is the kind of character who you could see shouldering an ongoing series. 

A good read; a promising first bow and welcome addition to the Aussie crime scene.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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