Good Money by JM Green: Book review

Book Review: Good Money by JM Green

What is it about?: Stella, a social worker in Melbourne, gets involved in the death of one of her client’s sons, which then evolves into a case of drugs, money and something else altogether.

What else is this about: Stella. She’s tough and tough  to like sometimes, and other times I found myself sympathising with her — those are the sorts of characters I want to read abou*t.

Should you read this: Hell yes!

Stars: 3.5

Blurb: Introducing Stella Hardy, a wisecracking social worker with a thirst for social justice, good laksa, and alcohol.

Stella’s phone rings. A young African boy, the son of one of her clients, has been murdered in a dingy back alley. Stella, in her forties and running low on empathy, heads into the night to comfort the grieving mother. But when she gets there, she makes a discovery that has the potential to uncover something terrible from her past — something she thought she’d gotten away with.

Then Stella’s neighbour Tania mysteriously vanishes. When Stella learns that Tania is the heir to a billion-dollar mining empire, Stella realises her glamorous young friend might have had more up her sleeve than just a perfectly toned arm. Who is behind her disappearance?

Enlisting the help of her friend, Senior Constable Phuong Nguyen, Stella’s investigation draws her further and further into a dark world of drug dealers, sociopaths, and killers, such as the enigmatic Mr Funsail, whose name makes even hardened criminals run for cover.

One thing is clear: Stella needs to find answers fast — before the people she’s looking for find her instead.

Set in the bustling, multicultural innerwest of Melbourne, Good Money reveals a daring and exciting new voice in Australian crime fiction. 

Stella is a protagonist that’s tough, sometimes too tough, and other times vulnerable in ways that hint at the weight of the baggage in her past. These are the characters that makes books compelling, and Good Money is definitely that. I’ve been looking forward to this title for months, and it’s everything I hoped it would be.

Stella works in the western suburbs of Melbourne as a social worker, and the book begins when she’s called by a client, Mrs Chol, when her son, Adut, is murdered. While doing her job, Stella stumbles onto something that Adut knew that brings up her past and increases the consequences tenfold for her as she works to find out exactly what Adut was up to… and who knows about her indiscretions from years go.

So begins this part of the story, bringing into Melbourne’s drug and gangs into play, and forcing Stella into conversations and confrontations she didn’t want.

While this is story is unfurling, Green expertly introduces another in an unexpected way with the disappearance of her neighbour Tania. Tania is a well-meaning neighbour with whom Stella is friends, even though there are times she isn’t exactly sure why she likes Tania.

Together these two storylines come together with some wonderful plotting, and expand Stella’s world and the story, and while it is compelling writing, I have to admit, I missed the intimacy that filled the first two-thirds of the book — because, well, Stella.

Green manages to let us into Stella, to her past and her present, while building her larger story and we learn about Stella, her life and the baggage that shapes her. It’s an unsympathetic look at her, and Green isn’t asking readers for anything more than understanding why Stella is so hard on herself and others. Families and best friends can hurt, steal and mess with you in so many ways if you let them, and Stella has, I think, before this hard shell grew around her, which is where we find her when the book begins.

She reconnects with her brother, Ben and Senior Constable Phuong Nguyen, in this story resulting in very opposite relationships coming to light. It made me think Stella must have relied on her friends more than anything in her lifetime, which is why Phuong absence in her life until now made her feel so lost. Their reconnection has the feel of Stella slipping into something comfortable and worn that she can’t do without any longer… that said, it does help that Phuong is a cop and has access to information that Stella needs.

There’s a romance angle, a complicated one to say the least. I had wished that this particular sub-plot fitted more seamlessly into the story, but the trade-off is that it offers some interesting complications for a social worker. And, it makes Stella vulnerable enough for readers to see her starting to shift the baggage that has consumed her for too long, as she let’s herself want more.

Overall, Good Money is filled with gritty worldbuilding, and a grittier protagonist that doesn’t want anything from you: you either understand her or you don’t. It shows that Green can handle the intimacy of character-driven plots, and larger ones in order to build a story. It’s no wonder this was shortlisted in 2014 for the Victorian Premier’s award for unpublished manuscripts!

What do you think of Good Money? It’s a uniquely Australian story, but one I think anyone would enjoy!

2 Comments

  • Annette says:

    Stella sounds complicated, which is actually quite appealing – I like a little depth when it comes to my characters. I’m not sure about the dual-aspect to the story though. Do the mysteries link together somehow at least?

    • Verushka says:

      Oh yes, they most definitely do — they start separately, but eventually the author links them and it all fits beautifully. JM Green has some great plotting here, I think. And Stella — she’s a bit of a hot mess, but, like you said, that what makes her appealing.

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