Review and An Anecdote: The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott
Well hello there. Been a while, hasn’t it? Why yes it has.
Okay! Enough with the blathering on! I have about a dozen reviews to post and nothing to say for my long absence, aside from that I discovered If You Are The One on SBS2 and Gotham on channel WIN. When’s that coming back on, anyway? Probably never. The only reason WIN played it to begin with was so they could take it away.
Today I’ll be reviewing the Holiday Murders by mystery author Robert Gott. I actually had the privilege of meeting Mr Gott during an evening hosted by the Batlow Literary Club last October. We had a fantastic night, Mr Gott the guest star having travelled up from Melbourne that day to be interviewed and pawed for autographs, as well as a bit of story telling. The theme of the night was 1940s, and the Club pulled it off flawlessly; upon entry to the venue we were given ration tickets for the food, and wow, the food. All 1940s style, I dare say with a few more ingredients than wartime rationing allowed for, but there were some beautiful moulded jellies and pannacottas, and it was great to see so many people in costume. There was even singing.
While it wasn’t a book launch, Mr Gott did have a few books on offer, and he told us a bit about each. You may have heard of his William Power series, again mystery, but with a good dose of humour. The Holiday Murders is outside the series, lacking the comedy elements, but in the same WW2 Australia setting, and a darker, grittier edge which sold me on it instantly. What! Jewish cops versus Australian Nazis! How could I not read it?
So, while it’s not speculative fiction, who cares, let’s review it anyway, here it is, strap in your eyeballs and get ready to be blown away.
The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott
Christmas Eve in Melbourne, 1943. Officers Titus Lambert and Joe Sable are called to the scene of a gruesome double murder, a father shot and his son tortured and crucified.
Sole survivor of the Quinn family, radio starlet Mary is first to find the bodies of her father and brother. But there are bodies on the way. It seems the killer will do anything to torture Mary – and that’s before he catches her.
As the new year dawns, it becomes apparent that the killer’s politics go far beyond the personal, as Nazism rears its ugly head in Melbourne. For Joe Sable, an Australia-born Jew, the case provides an opportunity to strike back against the atrocities committed in Europe. Pity Joe has no idea what he’s up against, and the monster he’s facing has no plans of stopping…
The cast in this book is just fantastic. They’re likeable, and failing that, believable. Ptolemy Jones is a brutal and terrifying antagonist, Constable Joe Sable naive but not dumb, and these two pitted against each other in the background of WW2 political tensions is a gritty and exhilarating ride.
And it is gritty. It’s brutal. There are multiple instances of torture, and Ptolemy Jones’s twisted sexual appetite is deeply uncomfortable for the reader. It makes the story all the more compelling. The discomfort of the violence matches the discomfort of the xenophobia, making for a visceral read. You will physically feel things in this book – disgust, discomfort, relief. I can’t name another book that puts its readers through such hoops, and it’s very well done.
The politics themselves are well researched, articulate and sensitive. My favourite part of the book is the relevance of the Antisemitism to modern day Western culture. Holy shit do we need to hear some of the crazy beliefs of the National Socialists. You would be amazed at just how much resemblance it bears to the anti-Muslim sentiments pervading so much of our culture throughout the last decade, and it might make you think again about the way we as a culture treat immigrants and minorities.
The story also describes Melbourne and the 1940s in loving detail. I especially loved the Red Mask radio drama. Not only was the drama an important plot point, but the way a character would occasionally mention listening in or recognise one of the cast suffused a real life into the pages.
I’ll be honest. Some of the story felt like notes. As if the author had drafted up the scene with filler dialogue and the necessary A to B of action and clues, and then moved on to writing a part he was more interested in. These scenes are particularly common when the three main police offers are speaking together. The peppering of typos and bad dialogue in these scenes adds to the sense they were meant to be further refined.
As much as I enjoy murder mysteries, The Holiday Murders reminded me why I don’t often read them. The ending was fine, but the actual reveal of the murderer and his motivation was so contrived, it was more of an eye roll than a heart-pounding moment of truth. Mystery stories are so often focused on the chase that they forget the story of the killer. As readers, we natural empathise with the detectives working the case. But we also need to understand the killer’s motivation. When the killer’s motivation turns out to be feeble or contrived, it makes what should be the climax, a flop instead, and we feel cheated of the satisfying smack of justice we’ve been waiting for.
Well, the ending wasn’t what I’d hoped. Despite that, the Holiday Murders is smartly written, deftly executed, a gripping, gut-wrenching tale of xenophobia, violence and the fight for justice. It promises big and most often delivers. If you’re interested in a more political murder mystery or just want to immerse yourself in the romance of 1940s, I highly recommend it. I would definitely read more of Gott’s work.
I’m giving it 3.5 stars.
What am I reading right now? What are YOU reading right now? Any Arthur C. Clarke perchance? If so, hold onto your hats. Coming up next (next when, Anneque, next October?) is my review for the double Hugo-Nebula award winning explanation (exploration surely) extraordinaire, Rendezvous With Rama!