Crime debut shows promise

Title: Promise

Author: Tony Cavanaugh

There's some really good Australian crime fiction around at the moment and Tony Cavanaugh's first novel, Promise is another great example.

Cavanaugh is a screen-writer and his experience with dialogue pays off, as does his fine sense of drama and tension.

Darian Richards is a country boy who fought his way to be the top homicide detective in Melbourne. Burnt out, with the weight of one too many impossible promises to a victim's family weighing on his shoulders, he resigns from the police force, throws away his gun, smashes his mobile phone and hits the road for some peace and quiet in Noosaville.

But a serial killer is stalking the young women of the Sunshine Coast and Darian vows to bring him down. This time he doesn't have the constraints of being on the police force, so he can play by his own rules and break them if he wants to.

Cavanaugh switches between Darian's voice and that of the killer, so you get a sense of hunter and hunter - not always an easy trick to pull off, but one that works well and serves its purpose here, giving an imaginative and chilling insight into a sick and violent mind.

With a supporting cast of interesting and eccentric characters, Cavanaugh keeps the pace up throughout and injects enough humour to occasionally relieve you from the gore and violence, of which there is plenty (which is not to say it's entirely gratuitous - if you're writing a serial killer novel, there are going to be bodies).

Throw in a sub-plot about a good, young female cop negotiating the conflicts between being a good and ethical officer and questions of mixed loyalty and Cavanaugh has provided all the elements of a layered, page-turning thriller.

Darian Richards is a welcome addition to the Aussie crime scene and certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Peter Corris's Cliff Hardy novels; hard-bitten, cynical, smart, tough and a loner - but that's definitely good company for a detective's first outing.

I suspect - and hope - this won't be the last we read of Richards; there's something satisfying about reading a book set in a familiar landscape, even if that includes violent crime. He's such a well-developed character that you get the feeling Cavanaugh has more in store.

I ripped through this book and I'm already looking forward to Cavanaugh's next instalment.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Lismore.

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