Wednesday, July 6, 2011

And the Devil Laughed by Carole Sutton

HANNAH FORD, an under-cover cop, takes a surveillance job in Draper's Wharf. The small town on the banks of the Parramatta River in Australia has links to the drug trade, so the latest whisper goes. Her brief: to observe, report, and locate its source.

When she arrives, the town is in shock after the rape and murder of its local barmaid. Hannah, a rape victim, could pull out, but she needs this job to prove her competence to return to the streets and full duties.Threaded through the main story, is Hannah's own account of guilt and rage born of her husband's death, her rape and degradation that followed.

In working to find the source of drugs in Draper's Wharf, the line between her case and the murder enquiry is fading fast. Can she hack it, or is her Linkworst nightmare about to be re-enacted, as she becomes their next target. (Short listed for the Genre Fiction Award by New Holland Publisher 2007)


Old Marty could have chosen a better day for his funeral. The gravedigger hawked and spat a gobbet of phlegm. He squatted against an old stone wall and sniffed the damp air. He turned his weary face upwards to check the progress of a threatening squall line. Fat drops of rain fell on his cheeks.

The warning on the radio that morning told of severe weather from the west approaching Sydney. It was coming in earlier than expected. He rolled his tobacco, lit up and let the weed dangle between his lips. He hoped to God they’d be finished in time. He shifted and sat, gangly arms looped around his legs – a bag of aching bones. Across the tombstones towards the church, he could see the funeral party on its way.

Reverend Timms led the procession along the narrow path, his balding head bowed to the wind, black and purple robes blown flat against his legs. The quartet of undertakers in maroon suits carried Old Marty in a coffin crowned with yellow roses. The widow, wrapped in a navy blue anorak, clutched the arm of her tall, angular sister. A few members of the Over 60s Club trailed along in their wake.

Large multi-coloured umbrellas mushroomed to shelter the mourners. The gravedigger sniffed again as the party stopped beside the hole he’d dug the night before. Brought up in an age when the predominant colour at funerals was black, the gaily-coloured golfing shades they used today struck a note of incongruity and turned his graveyard into a fairground. The billowing storm cloud burst. The gravedigger lurched to his feet and stumbled to his shed.

Storm driven rain slanted in the wind, bounced off the ground. Ferocious gusts tore at the robust umbrellas, lifted the corners of the tarpaulin covering the loose earth and turned the soil into a running river of mud. Deep puddles formed at the base of the grave, shifting and resettling the dirt.
As the minister began his intonation, the first of the storm clouds passed. The sun found an avenue between the clouds. In the moment’s respite, raindrops hung like splinters of glass from the surrounding bushes and trees. Freed from the umbrella’s cover, the widow lifted her face to the sky to look at the expanding rainbow. Her tall sister took a step forward to peer into the waterlogged grave.

Her scream drove seagulls from the church roof into the air with raucous cries and brought the gravedigger back to the party. Reverend Timms jerked forward, his gaze following the agitated woman’s pointed finger. Others bent to see.

There, in the dark wet pit, emerging from the muddied waters, they saw a human hand. Stark in its whiteness, washed by the rain, scarlet lacquer and bejewelled rings adorned the fingers. Runnels of water drained down the wrist and forearm as the water level dropped away. Only the tatty remnants of a thin blanket of soil remained to cover the naked, blue-tinged body of a young woman.

Straightening up, the minister met the gravedigger’s eyes. Turning to the undertakers, he nodded for them to take up their burden once more. Then gently he shepherded the funeral party back to the church. The gravedigger returned to his shed. With someone else occupying his grave, Old Marty would have to wait awhile.

Reviewed by Randall Radic

In a sense, Carole Sutton – who is the author of the book under discussion – is a little like Jesus. During his First Advent, Jesus wandered around preaching a message of salvation. Whereas Carole – in her delightful first novel, Ferryman – preached a message powerful enough to convert this reviewer, who found crime-fiction distinctively boring, to the pleasures provided by a rollicking ‘who-dunnit.’ Furthermore, according to some, Jesus will return at the Second Advent and kick Satan’s butt. Taking a cue from Jesus, Carole decided to make a second appearance too. She’s back with another bang-up ‘who-dunnit.’ This one’s called And the Devil Laughed. And just like Jesus, it kicks ass.

The plot of the story goes like this: Hannah Ford is a policewoman trying to make a comeback from an emotional double whammy – the recent death of her husband and her own traumatic experience as a rape victim. She takes a job as an undercover cop in a small town, which, so the rumor goes is little more than a depot for drug smugglers. Hannah’s job is to determine if the rumors are true. When Hannah arrives at the town, drug smugglers are old history. No one cares about that anymore. What’s worrying them now is the rape and brutal murder of a local barmaid. It’s this intersection of hysterical trends that sends the story rocketing off with reckless dynamism.

When it comes to telling a story, Carole Sutton is the Mistress of Mechanical Advantage. For she knows just how to do it. She winds the story tight, then lets out a little slack so the reader thinks this might be a good time to take a breath. Just as the reader opens his mouth to inhale, she pulls the line even tighter, almost garroting the hapless reader with breathless excitement. And the Devil Laughed is the textbook example of the raw power of superb storytelling, which is a talent that can’t be taught or bought. It’s a knack. Either a writer has it or not. Carole Sutton has it!

Some novelists, of course, can tell a story, but where they come up short is in their dialogue. In other words, when the story’s characters speak, they don’t sound like real people. Instead, they sound like no-talent actors in a really bad horror flick, which was written and directed by some haberdasher from New Jersey, who got the job because his brother-in-law put up the money for the flick. It’s called ‘cultural dislocation.’ Which means the author has no ear for conversational idiosyncrasies. This literary disease is usually brought on by proximity. Proximity narrows perspective.

Hooray! Carole Sutton does not have the dreaded dialogue disease. She has DESH, instead. DESH is a musical term – diatonic elaboration of static harmony, also known as the major chord accompanied – appropriately – with a descending bassline. Which means her dialogue is life-affirming. Which is a fancy way of saying that when her characters speak, their speech patterns sound right. There is texture and streamlined organicism. Which means harmony in the conversational universe. And that translates into happy readers.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best And the Devil Laughed hit a factor five on the Read-o-Meter. Even if, like the reviewer, you think ‘who-dunnits’ function best as paperweights, do yourself a favor and read this book. Perhaps you, too, will have a religious conversion.

4.75 of 5 stars4.75 of 5 stars4.75 of 5 stars4.75 of 5 stars4.75 of 5 stars 4.75 avg rating — 20 ratings — published 2008

Blood Opal
5.0 of 5 stars5.0 of 5 stars5.0 of 5 stars5.0 of 5 stars5.0 of 5 stars 5.00 avg rating — 2 ratings — published 2010

1 comment:

  1. The kind of books I like to read are often labelled page-turners. Fast moving, colourful, with a mystery to ponder, and a crime to solve - in other words, a rollicking good story. Those are also the kind of books I like to write. See above for an example of the introduction to 'And the Devil Laughed.' Does this have promise? You tell me.


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