Following a break of a couple of months or so (to accommodate #germanlitmonth), it’s time to return to gallivanting around the world with Pushkin Press. This time I’ve landed in Melbourne, Australia, where I’m about to read my first ever Vertigo, or offering from Pushkin Press’s crime imprint ….
Emma Viskic doesn’t muck about. There’s no slow build-up in this, her multi-award winning debut. (2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut and Davitt Awards for Best Adult Novel, Best Debut and Reader’s Choice) Here is the first paragraph.
Caleb was holding him when the paramedics arrived. Stupid to have called an ambulance – Gary was dead. Had to be dead. Couldn’t breathe with his throat slit open like that. The ambos seemed to think so, too. They stopped short of the blood-slicked kitchen tiles, their eyes on Gary’s limp form in their hands. A man and a woman, wearing blue uniforms and wary expressions. The woman was talking, but her words slipped past him, too formless to catch.
The “ambos” are wary, because, of course, Caleb is a suspect. Caleb doesn’t hear them because he is in shock, or perhaps he needs to adjust his hearing aid. Because Caleb is deaf and his disability leads to one misunderstanding after another throughout the course of the novel. Not in a crass way, but in every day situations due to Caleb disguising his disability, and because of that he is disadvantaged when he cannot see a person’s lips, or they mumble. It drives his estranged wife crazy ….
On the other hand, Caleb has become adept in reading people from their body language. He knows who can be trusted and who cannot, and his partner, Frankie belongs in the first group … despite her problem with alcohol.
And so, a profoundly deaf man and a recovering alcoholic with poor sign-language skills find themselves on the trail of a ruthless murderer. This is an interesting and original premise which all begins when Caleb’s PI agency is engaged to investigate a series of warehouse robberies. Asking his best friend on the force, Gary, to help with the investigation leads to his murder. Other witnesses in the warehouse case are killed too. Caleb’s investigation attracts the attention of the police, in particular one Uri Zedesco. And at this point, it becomes clear to Caleb that he too, for as yet unfathomable reasons, is on the hit list. It is time to flee.
Cue Resurrection Bay, scene of his childhood, home still to his estranged wife, formidable ex-mother-in-law, and his drug-addicted brother. It might provide a physical refuge from the killers long enough for Caleb to work out what he knows that is endangering his life, but it’s certainly not an emotional refuge. It appears that all the emotional baggage interferes with his logical circuits. For this is the supreme irony. By the time he, the lip-reader, sees what’s actually been staring him in the face, it may well be too late, not only for himself, but for those he loves.
Emma Viskic fills her debut not only with a clever mystery, but with insightful characterisation and complicated interpersonal dynamics. The classic tropes of crime fiction are given original twists. The novel felt so fresh. I’m also glad to report that the action wasn’t as blood-drenched as I thought it would be after reading the first paragraph. Although don’t get me wrong, these criminals are ruthless, and there are repeated visceral flashes of that throughout. Viskic, however, reserves perhaps the most shocking act of calculated cruelty for the finale, It literally left me gasping.
Even so, on finishing the novel I was delighted to discover that Resurrection Bay is the first of a series, and that Caleb Zelic will return sometime next year. This was a good start to my relationship with Pushkin Vertigo. If this is the quality I can expect of this imprint (and why wouldn’t it be, knowing Pushkin’s previous form), I feel the beginnings of another addiction. Frankly, it’s one I don’t need, but then who am I to argue/resist?