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Book Reviews

January, 1998

Chain Letter
Chain Letter , by Claire McNab Allen Unwin pb 1997 $14.95

After Inner Circle, Claire McNabís last Inspector Carol Ashton novel, I was looking forward to Chain Letter. The Ashton character is an interesting one. A closeted lesbian in a medium-upper level rank in the New South Wales police, she had good potential as a series protagonist. Unfortunately, Chain Letter is formulaic and lego-built; a disappointing addition to the series.

Ashton is investigating the death of one of her closest friends on the force who has been slashed to death in his own home. She finds that the murder is linked to a weird series of chain letters received by the victims of a number of recent murders and murder attempts. The trail leads tangentially to high level pedophiles and the powerful men who protect them in our society.

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The forensic scenes are good, well researched and again show McNabís compassion for the victims of crime, living or dead. But the villain of the piece is invisible until the second last scene and never seems more than two dimensional. Heís a series of convenient traits and sometimes silly quirks that Ashton tracks down. Thereís another formulaic feature that irks. The old "threaten the love interest" angle to personalise the climactic conflict for the protagonist. If done well, this can be a seamless part of the plot, invisible to all but the sharpest reader. In this case, itís way too obvious, telegraphing the sharp end of the narrative.

If youíre a fan of the series, youíll buy this one. If not, there are others in the series that will provide a much better introduction to Carol Ashton.

Terry Frost


With Friends Like These
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With Friends Like These, Nicholas Coleridge, p/b, A$14.95, ISBN: 0-75280-947-4 The particular pleasure of reading crime novels is in the setting. The readers of this genre demand richer characterisation of place as well as people, after all, these are important clues to opportunity and motive.

The world of With Friends Like These is the world of English glossy magazine publishing, a world of sterotypes and ostentatious presentation, of cliques and poseurs and manoeuvring for advertisers and market share.

From the blurb on the back cover, I expected this to have a female investigator: "Hot-shot journalist Anna Grant has a flair for making people talk. But is that any reason for someone to want her dead?"

This is not the story of her investigation, but the investigation into her death made by her editor, Kit Preston. Kit is a man who thinks that one afternoon of sex constitutes an affair, and who can think of marrying his secretary one day and have a bit of the other with a reporter the next. Sigh. And all while dealing with the fallout from his first marriage of inconvenience.

As a crime novel this is a traditional whodunit. Kit becomes a suspect (no surprise) and endangers himself and those around him in his efforts to solve the crime.

Getting through 450 pages with Kit and his staff, his crass American boss and his arch rivals, is not a bad way to spend an afternoon or so. What does get a bit tiresome are the pages of examination and discussion every time Kit's prime suspect changes.

Passable, but not memorable.

Ali Kayn

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