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27 July 2014

Geoffrey McGeachin: Blackwattle Creek

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Another good Charlie Berlin mystery
This is #2 in the excellent Charlie Berlin detective series set in Melbourne from the late 1940's to the present day. In the first of the series, THE DIGGERS' REST HOTEL, Geoffrey McGeachin introduced us to Charlie Berlin, recently returned from WWII where he was a bomber pilot, with traumatic memories of being shot down over Germany and suffering as a POW at the end of the war. He also introduced us to Rebecca, a photographic journalist who later became Charlie's wife.

Roll on a few years and Charlie and Rebecca are a loving couple living in Melbourne with two fine but demanding primary school children. Charlie is still with the police force but he has not progressed as far in the force as he expected due to his independent ways and the effects of continued traumatic memories. Rebecca is still active with her camera and finds the most profitable jobs to top up the tight family budget are weddings, not the top news assignments that she hoped for.

One day Rebecca asks Charlie to help a a recently widowed friend with a problem in his spare time. He soon finds that the problem isn't a minor one when he discovers that her friend's husband had been buried missing a leg. Charlie discovers that funeral parlours all over Melbourne are sending body parts to Black Wattle Creek, a defunct asylum for the criminally insane. Things become dangerous as Charlie investigates, his best friend in the force who has helped him with information is seriously attacked, Charlie is warned off by the Special Branch and his family are threatened. What follows impacts on the contemporary Cold War scares and fears of nuclear war.

My main memory of this book won't be the investigation, carried out in Charlie's inimitable independent style, which is pretty far out and fanciful, but the great evocative picture that Geoffrey McGeachin paints of suburban life in Melbourne in the 1950's, with milk bars; Admiral TV's bought to view the recent Olympic Games; their spec built suburban house with a back yard and chook run, Hills Hoist and outside toilet; fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, and steak and kidney pies; Tom Thumb firecrackers; distrust of recent immigrants ("reffos" and "bloody wogs"); and of course the Aussie Rules grand final.

I have now read #3, #1 and #2 in the series and would rank them in that order. The series is well recommended to readers who like a different style of detective novel, especially one set in Melbourne more than 50 years ago.

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