Oz Book Review: St Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin

 

ImageSt Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin, Netgalley, published 28th May 2014, 304p

Overall enjoyment rating: 8 out of 10 possible golden stars.

A serial killer’s work goes unnoticed until Detective Berlin is on the case in this third spine-tingling Charlie Berlin novel.

It’s 1967, the summer of love, and in swinging Melbourne Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin has been hauled out of exile in the Fraud Squad to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl, the daughter of a powerful and politically connected property developer. As Berlin’s inquiries uncover more missing girls he gets an uneasy feeling he may be dealing with the city’s first serial killer.

Berlin’s investigation leads him through inner-city discothèques, hip photographic studios, the emerging drug culture and into the seedy back streets of St Kilda. The investigation also brings up ghosts of Berlin’s past as a bomber pilot and POW in Europe and disturbing memories of the casual murder of a young woman he witnessed on a snow-covered road in Poland in the war’s dying days. As in war, some victories come at a terrible cost and Berlin will have to face an awful truth and endure an unimaginable loss before his investigation is over.

St Kilda Blues is Geoffrey McGeachin’s seventh book and third in the Charlie Berlin series. The first Berlin novel, The Diggers Rest Hotel, won the 2011 Australian Crime Writers Association’s Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction with the follow up book, Blackwattle Creek, also winning the Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction in 2013 – summary shamelessly stolen from Goodreads.com

 

I’ll come out and just admit it now – if Charlie Berlin wasn’t a fictional character I would stalk him. I’d follow him around and watch him do his thing – solve crimes and engage in general acts of heroism. Berlin feels real, and his interactions with the other characters makes for riveting reading. The strangest thing about my stalker urges is that I was introduced to this series with book three, normally I much prefer to read books in order.

The plot of St Kilda Blues is enjoyable and well structures, although it is formulaic. There was not much mystery as to why the killer was, although it was amusing to watch Berlin tell all the other policemen that they were doing it all wrong. The use of photography throughout the book was excellent, and I enjoyed learning something I have no clue about.

McGeachin weaves themes of war and history through St Kilda Blues effortlessly, and uses Berlin’s veteran history to further the story. I was also captivated by Berlins struggle through what would today be termed PTSD. The period that this book is set in, the Vietnam War, free love and drug use are all well-handled and provides a colourful canvas for the mystery that builds.

One of my favourite aspects of St Kilda Blues is its vibrant depiction of Melbourne. Although I live in Adelaide (unashamed croweater), the familiar things in the novel made me very happy. The Arnott’s biscuit truck stood out, as did the fact that they drove around in Commodores and Fairlanes. Also, the constant references to the AFL was fine by me – at least I know something about the sport. All of this is something that I find I miss out on in foreign novels, and I only realize that I am missing it when I read a book set in Australia.

I will certainly be picking up the previous Berlin books – I just purchased The Diggers Rest Hotel on Kindle for free, so I certainly am not complaining! I just hope that it is as good of a read as St Kilda Blues.

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