Harper Collins, This edition published March 2005
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
Australian Crime Fiction
What do murders, lawyers, politicians and property developers have in
common? To find out you'll have to read Chris Nyst's CROOK AS ROOKWOOD.
First an explanation of the title. In Australia, when things aren't good
they are “crook”. “How are ya, mate?” “Crook, mate.” When things are
really, really bad they are “'crook as Rookwood”. Rookwood is located in
Sydney. At 700 acres, it is one of the largest burial grounds in the world
and one of Australia's oldest cemeteries (courtesy of
www.strathfieldhistory.org). So if things are Crook as Rookwood, it can't
get much worse.
Old Tommy Atwell has lived in his house for most of his adult life.
Despite property developers buying up the district and offering him quite
a large sum of money, he is staying put. Tommy is beaten up one night and
is left so frightened that he does sell and moves into a retirement home.
Less than a month later, old Tommy is dead. Some think giving up his home
took away his reason for staying alive.
Kirsten Foster applies for a job as nanny to Michael Wiltshire's small
son. A handsome, personable widower, trying to raise his son on his own,
Michael needs help and he feels Kirsten is probably the right one. Michael
is also a property developer. Michael's father was a long-time staunch
member of the Labor party and Michael's childhood best friend Gary Sharpe
(“Sharpie”) who is a mover and shaker in the New South Wales Labor party,
feels Michael has a future in party politics. So does Fred Hunter, a
senior party man in Sydney's working-class western suburbs. It's widely
acknowledged that if it doesn't have Fred's approval, it doesn't happen.
Kirsten is trying to get on with her life after divorcing her no-hoper
husband, Trevor, a drug-addict and small time criminal. Kirsten has had
many set-backs in trying to free herself from him but she finally feels
she has moved on. So why is Trevor ringing her up and asking her questions
about her employer? When Trevor is found dead of an apparent drug overdose
in a stolen car, Kirsten contacts her brother's best friend, defence
lawyer Eddie Moran. When Eddie questions the investigating detective at
the inquest, he discovers that enquries have been cursory at best. And
that there are inconsistencies in the evidence.
CROOK AS ROOKWOOD is a fast-paced romp that examines the mechanics of
power. Who is connected to whom? What do they know? And how can they turn
that knowledge to their advantage? It is also a look at corruption in its
many forms: Major corruption in perverting justice and committing crimes.
Minor corruption in choosing not to examine things which perhaps don't
feel right. The plot is quite complex so you need to pay attention.
Chris Nyst is a keen observer of personalities and creates memorable
characters. He also has a feel for writing dialogue which is witty and
sounds authentic. A defence lawyer, based on Queensland's Gold Coast,
Nyst's clients have ranged from high-ranking politicians and sporting
identities to a notorious hit-man and petty criminals. He knows the legal
system and how it works. He also knows criminals. He knows how they think
and how they speak.
I don't know if CROOK AS ROOKWOOD has been published outside Australia.
I'm not sure how well it would fare; it is uniquely Australian and there
are many elements that those not familiar with Australian society might
puzzle over. However, if you have a tame Aussie you can call on for
explanations, then I highly recommend this book. It's great fun.
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