Review: Blackwattle Creek by Geoffrey McGeachin

Title: Blackwattle Creek {Charlie Berlin Mystery #2}

Author: Geoffrey McGeachin

Published: Viking May 2012

Synopsis: It’s September 1957, two days before the VFL grand final, and Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin, former bomber pilot and ex-POW, finally has some time off. But there’s no rest for Charlie, a decent but damaged man still troubled by his wartime experiences. A recently widowed friend asks a favour and he’s dropped into something a hell of a lot bigger than he bargained for when he discovers a Melbourne funeral parlour has been burying bodies with parts missing. A Hungarian émigré hearse driver points Berlin in the right direction but it quickly becomes obvious anyone asking the wrong questions is in real danger. With his offsider beaten and left for dead, witnesses warned off, Special Branch on his case, and people he doesn’t know watching his every move, Berlin realises even his young family may be in danger. His pursuit of the truth leads him to Blackwattle Creek, once an asylum for the criminally insane and now a foreboding home to even darker evils. And if Berlin thought government machinations during World War II were devious, those of the Cold War leave them for dead. Read an Extract

Status: Read on May 23, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Penguin Australia}

My Thoughts:

The first book in this historical crime series, The Diggers Rest Hotel, won the 2011 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Fiction but it completely slipped by me. Part police procedural/part noir mystery featuring ex-World War II bomber pilot and POW, Victorian police detective Charlie Berlin, Blackwattle Creek picks up around a decade after the events of The Diggers Rest Hotel. It’s 1957, Charlie is married to photo journalist Rebecca Green, a father of two and a police detective in Melbourne who has just been granted a weeks leave. His plans for his brief holiday includes watching the VFL grand final, spending time with his family and building a dark room for Rebecca in their backyard, until a newly widowed friend asks for a favour and suddenly Charlie is caught in the middle of a twisted nightmare.

McGeachin establishes an intriguing political and social background for Blackwattle Creek. Police in Melbourne in the late 1950’s still do not carry guns, justice is often meted out with a fist or well placed kick, and corruption in the ranks is rife. The ramifications of World War II still linger, money is tight for most and those that served, including Charlie, continue to suffer the effects of what we would now term PTSD. In reaction to the perceived threat by the ‘commies’, the Cold War is heating up and suspicion of foreigners is rife. The newly formed ASIO are flexing their powers on home soil and the British have convinced Australia to allow them to secretly test nuclear weapons in South Australia at Maralinga. The historical detail the author weaves into the story is fascinating without being overwhelming, Blackwattle Creek is firmly grounded in time and place. I do find it strange that McGeachin has let a decade elapse between the first and second book and wonder if perhaps the third will be set in the 1960’s.
Charlie is a complex character, haunted by memories of his wartime experiences including the moment he lost his entire bomber crew and the forced POW march through freezing snow escorted by the SS. He has battled with alcoholism on his return and though now Rebecca and his children have proved to be a steadying force, his anger and fear is never far below the surface. Despite the warnings to drop the case that leads him to the Blackwattle Creek facility, Charlie can’t let it go until he has answers and even some sort of justice. When his family is threatened, Charlie doesn’t hesitate to do all he can to protect them. My only quibble with Charlie is in fact his name, he is often  referred to by his last name ‘Berlin’ which I find oddly distracting because of the associations.

I found Blackwattle Creek a quick and easy read that kept me turning the pages and though I think it’s likely to have a stronger appeal to a masculine audience, Blackwattle Creek is an intelligent and entertaining piece of crime fiction.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    May 25, 2012 @ 16:27:13

    Sounds like a winner, particularly as a Father’s Day or man’s gift ; though there probably are lots of potential female readers, too, who’ll welcome it.

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  2. The Australian Bookshelf
    May 26, 2012 @ 16:24:12

    I considered requesting this one on netgalley but wasn’t too sure about it. Sounds like I missed out on a good read!

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  3. Marg
    May 26, 2012 @ 23:12:45

    I passed this by on Netgalley for a couple of reasons – the major one being that I have too much to read already, but you make it sound really good! Will definitely think about requesting the first one from the library at some point.

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    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      May 27, 2012 @ 14:10:01

      I was tempted when I saw it on Netgalley but with my crowded schedule I decided against requesting it – then it showed up in the mail so I had to read it , and I am glad I did 🙂

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  4. notesoflifeuk
    May 27, 2012 @ 01:51:37

    I’ve not heard of this one before, or it’s author, but it certainly sounds like a good read and right up my street 🙂

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  5. Trackback: Review: St Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin | book'd out

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