CROOK AS ROOKWOOD
Chris Nyst

 


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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.

April 2007

 

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