A plethora of audaciously murky crimes that are committed daily in our society are – on the surface – disarmingly straight-forward and with need of little assistance from the public. Sometimes, however, circumstances arise in which no-one is seemingly at fault, but where blame lies well-hidden below a veneer of innocence and nobility. Such disparate criminal cases occur, and even have a link, in exemplary Australian author, Dinuka McKenzie’s, soaring and expertly-executed debut crime novel, “The Torrent”.
“The Torrent” is masterfully set in the geographically enviable environs of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, in the fictional town of Esserton, in the present, as well as three months prior. Our protagonist, thirty-eight year old Detective Sergeant Kate Miles, is in the final weeks of her demonstrably encumbering pregnancy with her second child (she is married to Geoff, a stay-at-home dad for four year old son Archie; Geoff is also a freelance architect).
Kate is in her much-looked-forward-to final week of work before going on maternity leave. However, crime never abates – even in the idyllic locale in which Kate is stationed, Esserton and it’s surrounds. Kate is put, in her last week on the job, in charge of a multi-pronged investigation into a hold-up in the early hours of the morning at Tweed Valley Way McDonalds, in which a sixteen year old girl, Josephine Allen, has been physically assaulted – much to the abject horror of her teenage co-workers and twenty-four year old unreliable boss. The three perpetrators of the overtly cowardly attack are brazenly hidden from view behind super-hero masks, though they are thought to be teenagers.
A complication for Kate with the McDonald’s case is that Josephine’s father is Councillor Roman Allen, a brusque local man who is known to Kate from a sordid past encounter.
As Kate’s mind is unequivocally swirling with the perplexing, yet irrefutably solvable super-hero McDonald’s hold-up, she finds herself called in to the office of her superior, Chief Inspector Skinner. Three months prior, there has been a supremely destructive and lethal flood in the region, during which time a local twenty-seven year old man, Joel Marshall, has drowned. His wife, Gabby, was with him at the time. It has appeared to the investigating police, headed by Leading Senior Constable Murchison, from the Tweed Heads station, to be a simple case of drowning by misadventure – or was it? Skinner wants Kate to look into the case, in light of Joel’s mother, Annette, being suspicious of Gaby, and believing there is more to the case than meets the eye. Annette is a friend of the Assistant Commissioner, John Preston, who wants the case looked into because of Annette’s concerns. As Skinner divulges to Kate, ” ‘There is nothing new. The investigation stands. We’ve got nothing to justify reopening the case….I think this is just a favour for a friend”.
As the novel effortlessly and seamlessly moves between the past and present, we learn additionally of a local high-spirited teenager, Eamon, from Esserton High, and his demure girlfriend, Anika, who attends St Therese’s. Could Eamon hold the key to the two seemingly unrelated events of the McDonald’s crime and Joel’s untimely death? Are Annette’s potent and toxic accusations towards Gabby worth taking note of ? (Especially since Gabby has been doing highly lucrative television and magazine appearances, while also three months after her husband’s death having a new partner – all the time playing the part of the grieving widow). Additionally, does Anika’s nine year old brother, Noa, know more about events that have occurred than he is letting on? Eerily and sinisterly, why is Murchison following Kate around town?
Dinuka McKenzie has written a searingly intelligent, engrossing and masterfully-written story of crime, family and loyalty in a beautifully Australian setting. “The Torrent” had me turning the pages faster and faster as I progressed in my reading of this meticulously researched novel (in terms of depicting police procedure). Dinuka is bringing Detective Sergeant Kate Miles back in another novel, “Taken”, to be released in 2023. I loved “The Torrent”, and I’ll definitely be putting “Taken” on my reading list for next year.