Two months ago I enjoyed my first read by Australian crime writer Pat Flower, which was called Goodbye, Sweet William (1959), so I had high hopes for this later title. Today’s read centres around the dealings of an export firm. One of their accountants, Richard Ross, thinks he has discovered the sales manager taking bribes from contractors. Rather than telling his superiors or trying to obtain documentary evidence, Ross procrastinates for a week and decides to confront the manager, Athol Cosgrove, at his home. Yet this decision nearly costs him everything, as he finds himself the number one suspect in a murder – not of Cosgrove, mind you, but the son of his next-door neighbour. It is assumed that the teenager was knocked over by a burglar leaving Cosgrove’s flat, and a swathe of circumstantial evidence makes it look like Ross did the deed. As the police proceed with their investigation, Richard vacillates between truths and falsehoods, ever undecided how best to trap Cosgrove and clear his name of the murder. Unsurprisingly he gets into a bigger and bigger mess, and it remains to be seen whether he will manage to extricate himself from it all or not.
As my synopsis unsubtly hints at, Richard Ross, is no quick maker of decisions, nor is he any good at making wise choices. Either he opts for the wrong action, tries to combine two conflicting options, or takes so long to decide to do anything, that the right action is deployed at the wrong time. To be honest he is something of a wet blanket and despite him being innocent of the crime, I don’t think the reader is hugely sympathetic to his predicament. I think this is a weakness of the book, as with a wronged man type of plot, which is told from his perspective, it is important that the reader cares about the protagonist. The angle that will most interest the readers is whether the robbery/manslaughter crimes were planned to wholly or partially frame Ross, and if so, who is behind it all. Irritatingly this aspect does not get as much page time as Ross’ moaning and his many interviews with the police. Flower is good though at exploring the effects this case has on Ross’ homelife and I think we see a more nuanced depiction of how a marriage suffers under that level of stress and strain – especially when they have the shared loss of a child in the background. You could say the ending is Francis Iles-ish, with its open-ended twist, but personally I found it had less impact on me, as the previous narrative had failed to sufficiently engage me.
So not such a good read by Flower this time. If anyone has read a stronger effort book by her, do let me know.