His fourth book is a triumphant return to form for Alan Carter, who has established himself as a powerful Antipodean crime writer.
A remote farmhouse in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds is a handy hiding place for Sgt Nick Chester and his family.
It would be even better if he could be sure that it was far enough away from a very bad man he put in jail in England, and his particularly nasty henchmen.
As his paranoia grows, he keeps a low profile at the local police station, mostly on traffic duty.
But when a child goes missing, he calls on his old skills to find a predator before he can strike again.
In the small community around him, Nick discovers there are some less than pleasant characters, and his investigations stir up some nasty secrets, often hidden by tense inter-cultural relationships.
The rising pressure also adds to the stress on his already-struggling marriage. Carter won the Ned Kelly Award for best first fiction for his first book, Prime Cut.
The hero of that book, Cato Kwong, is a great addition to local crime literature, though the most recent (book three in that series) seemed to have lost some of its mojo.
The good news is, Carter is back to his best in this. He jokes that it is a “temporary conscious uncoupling” from Cato, but hopefully that means he’ll go back to that series in the future. Meanwhile, this is an excellent alternative.
This book was published in June 2017
Prime Cut, by Alan Carter (2011)
Disgraced detective Phillip “Cato” Kwong gets called back into action after being exiled to the Stock Squad.
A headless body has been found on a beach at Hopetoun, a booming WA mining town, and there’s no one else available to investigate.
As Kwong digs, what he finds are shocking conditions for migrant workers, which puts him on a collision course with business interests associated with the mine.
But there are other crimes being hidden in the remote community and the more Kwong stirs the pot the more dangerous the situation becomes.
Helping him sort out the mess are Kwong’s ex, local senior-sergeant Tess Maguire, and a young part-Aboriginal policeman – the surprising Greg Fisher. On the fringes is a long-retired Sunderland copper still on the tail of a brutal killer he first encountered more than 30 years before.
This is a great debut from the WA writer, introducing a detective with loads of appeal who deserves, and seems destined for, a series. Some minor plot issues aside, it’s a confident, witty, entertaining and gritty tale with an interesting, multicultural cast.
The book was shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award in 2010.
Getting Warmer, by Alan Carter (2013)
Alan Carter started his crime-writing career with a bang when he won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction with Prime Cut.
Now he’s done the really hard bit – followed up with an even better second book. His hero, Phillip “Cato” Kwong, is a policeman in Fremantle, in boom days that have a Wild West feel.
Cato’s smart and his humour’s dry as a bone; he’s unthreatening, but well able to look after himself.
This time Cato has to try to manage a jailed killer, who’s playing nasty mindgames with the mother of his last victim. The squad’s dealing with the murder of an undercover cop working with a Vietnamese gang and with rumblings from the Apache motorcycle club, which is preparing for a turf war.
And throughout it all, the whiff of corrupt copper. But which one? For starters, co-worker Lara is dodgy, his boss has a secret connection to the killer, and his old mate, the charismatic ring-in from the Gang Squad, seems a bit too slick.
Carter delivers a fast-paced and atmospheric tale, with a lively multicultural cast and an absolute gem in Cato.
Bad Seed, by Alan Carter (2015)
Detective “Cato” Kwong arrives at a horror murder scene – multiple bloody deaths in a family home. The shock is worse because the male victim, property developer Francis Tan, was once his closest friend.
The eldest son, who is missing and a suspect, is Cato’s godson.
The murder inquiry spreads its tentacles into Asia, with links uncovered to major Chinese property developers and underworld figures, who take a keen interest in the investigation, with often violent results.
Meanwhile, Cato’s crusty boss, DI Hutchens, is in trouble, facing an inquiry that looks certain to finish his career and possibly put him on the other side of the law.
Cato Kwong first apeared in 2011 in Prime Cut, with author Alan Carter winning the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction and being shortlisted for the international Debut Dagger.
The sequel, Getting Warmer, was even better. Both were quirky, gripping and confident with a strong multi-cultural cast and a highly appealing central character in Cato.
Bad Seed takes a step in a slightly different direction, with a crime story that feels both darker and more conventional that the previous two.
Kwong’s personal life, including his struggling relationship with his son and a lukewarm romance, feel thin and unconvincing. It’s still a strong crime story, but it feels like some of the elements that made the series such a standout have been diluted.
These reviews were first printed in the Herald Sun’s Weekend magazine.