Crucifixion Creek: book review

Crucifixion Creek by Barry Maitland

Stars: 3/5

Blurb: Homicide detective Harry Belltree wouldn’t usually be looking too hard at an elderly couple’s suicide pact. Especially now, when his brother-in-law Greg has just been stabbed to death. But it seems Greg and the old couple had ties to the same man, a bent moneylender with friends in high places – and low.

Harry can’t get officially involved in Greg’s murder, but he suspects a link with two other mysterious deaths: his parents’. And when he goes off-grid to investigate, that’s when things start to get dangerous

Set in Sydney, this dark, morally ambiguous and adrenaline-charged new series is a triumphant change of direction for Barry Maitland.

Barry Maitland was born in Scotland, studied architecture at Cambridge University and went on to work as an architect and urban design expert. In 1984 he moved to Australia to head the architecture school at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales. In 1994 The Marx Sisters, the first in his Brock and Kolla crime series, was published. Barry now writes fiction full time. He is published throughout the English-speaking world and in translation in a number of other countries, including Germany, Italy, France and Japan. He lives in the Hunter Valley.

‘One of the top five crime writers in the world.’ Australian

What is this about: Harry Belltree is a Sydney cop investigating his brother-in-law’s death, which in turn dovetails with his own investigation into his parents’ death in an accident that left his wife, Jenny, blind.

What else is it about: Coming to terms with the past, for Harry. Given it’s the first in the series, Barr Maitland wastes no time in setting Harry’s past to rest.

Should you read it: Yes, but be warned: it’s a slow burn.

Slow burn is an understatement, but I don’t mean this in a bad way. As the first in a trilogy, Maitland introduces us to Harry and his extended family straightaway when Harry’s brother-in-law, Greg, is murdered. As a result, we’re given a complete view of Harry, of the things that drive him and make him tick without having bits and pieces doled out over a trilogy. Readers learn quickly that Harry isn’t afraid to step outside the rules of law to find his answers, and the death of his parents (his father was Sydney’s first Aboriginal judge) drives and has been driving him for years – he thinks they were murdered. It’s his obsession and it consumes him.

Harry is quickly pulled off the investigation into Greg’s murder. Like all good cop stories, that doesn’t stop him from investigating the murder and his construction company, which in turn pulls him into the orbit of Kelly, a journalist investigating the death of two elderly residents of the Creek. Together, Maitland takes them on a journey to discover the connections between the two, giving Kelly plenty of focus as her career begins to take off because of her work with Harry and the stories she writes. Harry is her informant, helping her career along even as her stories move the pieces and people in his own investigation.

What emerges from their collaboration is a complicated tale of connections involving bikies and corrupt politicians and Crucifixion Creek, and it’s a tangled web, but one which Maitland expertly connects several plot threads in this story.

Harry, an ex-soldier, is more than your quintessential cop – he’s obsessed with his parents’ death, convinced they were murdered despite evidence to the contrary. That in part is fuelled by Jenny’s blindness, a consequence of her being in the car with them. It’s as if he finds the killers, he might be able to make some peace with her blindness. I liked that he forgot she couldn’t see him sometimes – that he’d nod, and forget he actually has to say something so she understands. Harry also has no qualms manipulating anything and everyone he can to achieve his ends, even lying to his partner if it gets him what he needs. The sadness of this and Harry’s ruthlessness is that his partner doesn’t deserve this. She’d help him if she could, I think.

Jenny is the strength behind Harry. As much as he worries about her, she’s a computer genius and has adapted to her blindness, even if he hasn’t. She’s the one that steers him when it comes to his sister and her kids, to their wellbeing. In fact, she’s the one that ferrets out information for him when he can’t or doesn’t know how to – whether it’s from his family or a computer. What’s interesting is that she is as ambigious as he is, willing to bend the rules even if she shouldn’t. Without her, Harry wouldn’t survive. But without him, I think Jenny would survive.

Overall, an engrossing and compelling read!

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