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Kingdom of the Strong - Book Review

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Published October 1st 2015
Those with lots to lose are often the most ruthless
It seems like Darian Richards' life has hit rock bottom again.

Having lost the woman he loves and the killer he had been trying to catch since his days as a Victorian detective, Darian is trying to clear his mind in the Great Lakes district of the New South Wales coast. The events of The Train Rider have certainly taken a huge toll on him.

Enter Copeland Walsh, Victorian police commissioner. There is a 25-year-old cold case that Walsh needs to re-open, and Darian is the best person to look into it. Back in 1990, teenage girl Isobel Vine was found dead in her home under mysterious circumstances. Four young cops were present the night she died, and one of those cops is tipped to succeed Walsh as police chief. As a result, the Attorney-General has ordered Isobel's case re-opened, despite the Coroner's open finding at the time of her death.

Of course, Darian's team is ever there to assist him. There is Isosceles the computer genius with a fixation for Raquel Welch who has been a great help in Darian's previous three ventures. Then there is Maria, a serving officer with the Queensland police, whom Darian requests to be seconded to Melbourne for this particular assignment. Maria's partner Casey, a former Melbourne gangster who now runs a curio shop on the Sunshine Coast, also rides into town on his Harley Davidson.

Darian's investigation uncovers the four officers' links to a shady drug dealer and a paedophile teacher. It seems that in the weeks leading up to Isobel's death, she had been unwittingly roped in as a drug mule and intercepted by the Federal Police. Hence there is pressure on Walsh to clear the name of his potential successor.

This storyline looks like it had been lifted more or less from Stieg Larsson's The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. In both instances, we see corrupt bureaucrats who have heaps to lose resorting to ruthless means to cover their tracks when someone's actions threaten to expose them. In a way, there is a Nordic taste to Kingdom of the Strong.

Cold case: Darian Richards returns to Melbourne to work on the unsolved death of 18-year-old Isobel Vine in an attempt to clear the names of four young cops who were present the night she died, uncovering more than he bargained for.

Tony Cavanaugh's way of telling things from the suspects' point of view certainly gets under the skin. The conversations the affected cops have among themselves are reminiscent of the secret discussions held by rogue members of the Swedish Security Police in the Millennium series. All the more it adds a strong dose of realism to the plot. The language used is highly visceral, and readers need a strong stomach for that. It may be likely that the description of kinky sex that takes place in the novel could cause offence. Indeed, it is hard not to feel anything for the deceased considering how she had been used and abused just before her death. It is like the poor girl has taken on a life of her own from beyond the grave.

The best part about Kingdom of the Strong is that you do not really need to read the first three books that came before it, as it is pretty much stand-alone. For a change, all the action takes place in Melbourne this time, whereas the previous books were all set in Queensland. Darian, being the ex-homicide chief, remembers Melbourne for its murders more than anything else. The only light-hearted moment is when Fred Astaire is referenced.

Kingdom of the Strong will certainly attract fans of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, considering the close similarities in this instance. Most of all, it would appeal to those seeking an Australian voice in the world of crime fiction where Scandinavians have amassed lots of influence.
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