Wednesday, February 17, 2021


BLACK CLOUD by Sandi Wallace (Gumshoe, 2020)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

How many lives can one incident shatter? For one Daylesford cop, this will be their last callout. Another may not make it. A third will call it quits.
Black cloud on a winter’s morning signals what nobody could’ve seen coming. An anything-but-routine welfare check by two Daylesford police officers at a farm in Korweinguboora. A fatal house explosion that leaves a rural community reeling.

Local cop John Franklin and Melbourne journalist Georgie Harvey are among the first responders at the property. The crime scene is compromised by fire and tonnes of water, and speculations run rife. Murder-suicide? Accident or sabotage? An isolated incident or just the beginning?

As lives hang in the balance, Franklin seeks answers and someone to hold accountable while Georgie investigates her toughest story yet. But will one of them crack?

The fourth book in the Georgie Harvey and John Franklin series; this series is set, in the main, around Daylesford and the goldfields area, with BLACK CLOUD mostly in Korweinguboora, one of my all time favourite place names (and locales). When I was a kid my grandfather loved heading out to there to collect spa water from a roadside spring. His garage was always filled with bottles coated with dark red mineralisation, and the daily glass of lemon cordial and spa water cold from the fridge must have done something - he lived until he was 99 after all. It's a great part of the world, and the ultimate local test of where you're from was always if you could pronounce Korweinguboora or not.

This series is based around Harvey's journalistic and Franklin's police careers; and their personal partnership which is pretty well always a bit on the rocks, especially from Harvey's point of view as Franklin struggles with the pressures and pitfalls of policing in small towns where the personal and professional often overlap. In BLACK CLOUD the overlap is awful, when in the opening of the novel, a family home explodes into flames, whilst police colleagues and a community nurse are on scene, doing a health and welfare check on the family. When the smoke settles, and the flames are bought under control the death toll includes the entire family of 4 and one of Franklin's police colleagues, whilst the other policewoman and a community nurse have been critically injured.

The story revolves around the questions you'd expect to have asked of an incident like this - murder, murder-suicide or tragic accident? As is always the case in small towns though, there's pressure of different sorts here. The tension between the big city specialist cops called into investigate, and the grief and commitment that Franklin has to his team, his colleagues and his community. His grief is palpable in his determination to get to the bottom of this mystery, sidelined or not, and in the process he exhausts himself, whilst turning away from Harvey and his daughter, creating tensions at home and at work, driven and desperate to understand what happened. Meanwhile Harvey is conducting her own investigations as part of a story to be written, discovering bits of information and connections with other strange goings on, dealing all the while with her hurt as Franklin withdraws further. Sadly, this disconnection has a direct impact on the way the case unfolds, and the path to the truth that eventually comes to light.

An elegant combination of rural crime fiction and police procedural with a romance element incorporated, this series has developed really strongly. The relationship - personal and professional - at the heart of these works. Franklin and Harvey feel like a real couple, with tensions and imperfections, and a way of muddling through. The sense of place is pretty strong, and the subject matter being tackled here very current and very believable.

You never know, by the end of BLACK CLOUD, you may even be pronouncing Korweinguboora like a local 

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel. This review was first published on Karen's website; she kindly shares some of her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by Australians and New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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