Today’s book continues the 90s trend of my reading. However the first thing I should note is that I have been somewhat of a wally and read this book, the last in the Verity Birdwood series, despite only having read the first book in the series. I don’t think this caused any spoiler issues, but I do feel like I wasn’t quite in touch with some of the other serial characters which I think developed in the middle of the series. Warnings over let’s look at the book anyways.
The story begins with the release of Trevor Lamb, who after five years in prison, for murdering his wife, has been pardoned. His release was mostly due to a book, lawyer Jude Gregorian wrote on the case, pointing out how weak the evidence was that convicted him. However on going back to his home community, Hope’s End, where his family reside, he is found murdered 24 hours later. Was he killed by his dead wife’s parents, who also live in the area? Or was it one of his family members? Or was it someone else, the true killer of his wife, Daphne? It doesn’t help of course that aside from his hugely unpleasant personality, he mouths off in the pub that he knows who really did the crime. Verity Birdwood, the series’ private investigator is at the centre of all the action, working as a researcher for a TV company who want to do a documentary on Lamb and his release from prison. Birdwood also has some social awkwardness to deal with, as she seems to have some kind of past history with Jude, but it just so happens that the police officer sent from Sydney to deal with the case is Dan Toby, who she has worked with pretty closely in previous stories and who she meets socially. [It is of course at this point I had wished I had read the middle books first as I am only guessing at these relationships].
Firstly this is one heck of a series finale! Like Harriet Rutland’s Blue Murder (1942), I was left gasping at the end. Yet the book certainly did not start out this way. In fact I was almost ready to give up by about chapter 3. Why you ask? Well to be honest the social milieu revolving around Lamb and his family members really didn’t work for me. They were that little bit too unpleasant and quite frankly wouldn’t be out of place on a Jeremy Kyle episode. They just exude sweat, alcohol and crassness and it does all get a bit much. I think the way the story is a structured exacerbates this issue, as the first third of the book focuses on the run up to Lamb’s murder, which means you have to spend a lot of page time with this dysfunctional family.
Yet for all that I do have to take my hat off to Rowe for crafting the character of Trevor, who really should feature on some kind of top fictional anti-hero list. It is interesting to see how Jude copes with Trevor, as despite his intense belief in justice, Jude really doesn’t like the man he has saved. In fact I would say Jude increasingly begins to wonder what sort of monster he has created. I find having the wronged man to be such an unlikeable character to be unusual.
Verity Birdwood, or Birdie as everyone calls her in the book, was as intriguing as she was in my last encounter with her. She doesn’t comfortably fit the stereotypical female investigator role and I like how she is neither an emotional nincompoop nor a cold thinking machine. Rowe manages to make her a convincing combination of the two, keen to rely on her logic and reason and not let her emotions warp her judgement, but not without empathy or sensitivity. Her plan to have Miss Marple-like conversations with various local inhabitants also appealed to me. However it did pique my interest when Rowe has one of Trevor’s old flames instinctively feel a similarity between Trevor and Verity. The old flame initially saw Trevor like a solitary fox and this same mental image comes up when she first sees Verity, ‘Here was another one. Another solitary. Another calm, ruthless one. Dangerous.’ I wouldn’t say Verity is ruthless but there is definitely a strong sense of determination about her.
So yes I commented on how the book doesn’t have the best of beginnings, but things pick up a lot once you get to the current murder of Trevor. The toxicity of some of the characters becomes less concentrated, making it easier to enjoy Rowe’s writing more. I guessed one twist in the story, but I certainly didn’t see the ending coming at all – yet annoyingly of course the clues and signs were there, I had just completely missed them. I think the ending of this book will stay with me for quite a while, as it can be safely described as jaw dropping.
With such an ending this book would naturally be a hot contender for the Book of the Month, but I am afraid that the Jeremy Kyle component of the story really pulled the book down for me, hence my rating. If you’re a fan of the show then of course that won’t be an issue, but if it is not your cup of tea I’d recommend starting with some of the earlier books in the series (like a sensible reader- unlike me), before ending with this, as this tale’s finale is definitely worth it.
Grim Pickings (1987)