There are few ways left, one would think, of making a detective unique given how many crime thrillers there are around and how many with different quirks, tics and particular characteristics (jazz, drink, ex-wives, comedy partners, etc). Emma Viskic has hit on something new though with her main protagonist, Caleb Zelic (or at least new to me): in that he is deaf. Now, of course, that alone won’t make a great book or main character, but this isn’t a box-ticking exercise; instead, it’s one that grows our understanding of what being deaf or partially deaf must be like, as well as ‘using’ his ability to miss parts of sentences or misread things to help with the plot.
Caleb’s deafness aside, this is a rich thriller: rich in detail about the grimy side of Melbourne, rich in characters drawn with humour and empathy, rich with fear and tension, and rich on detail about everything from race to drug use. It’s extraordinary that this is Viskic’s debut, really, as it’s brilliantly put together with parts of it reading like a film script as we are dragged propulsively and viscerally through the situations that Caleb finds himself in: just about avoiding death on several occasions. Apparently, she learned Australian sign language herself to better understand the character’s abilities and limitations and to make the book feel more real: it worked. But so does her natural gift for character and dialogue.
This won almost every prize going for Australian crime and thriller writers, and it’s easy to see why. Not quite my favourite thriller of the year, but definitely up there and I’ll be looking out for the next book when it’s released in the UK next year.
BUY IT NOW: Resurrection Bay (Pushkin Vertigo)