Book review: Old Scores

old-scoresOld Scores is the third book by Perth crime writer David Whish-Wilson featuring Frank Swann, former petty criminal, disgraced cop and low rent private investigator.

The first, Line of Sight (2010), was set in 1975, six months after the murder of a Perth brothel madam, shot four times in the back of the head with a .22 the day before she was scheduled to give evidence to the tax office implicating senior police and certain high profile ‘secret investors’ in her operation. Convinced the same cops responsible for the murder are the ones investigating it, Swann turns whistle blower for the Royal Commission called to investigate the murder and matters relating to it.

Zero at the Bone (2013) took place in 1979 and saw Swann engaged in a parlous living as a PI. A bikie wants his stolen Harley found, an old cop buddy wants help to track down some shop lifted jewels, and an attractive widow by the name of Jennifer Henderson wants to know why her geologist husband decided to blow his brains out. No one will touch case except Swann and it soon becomes apparent why.

Old Scores shifts the story to the eighties and the beginnings of the cowboy capitalism that marked Western Australia in that decade. A Perth heroin dealer has taken a contract out on Swann for his role in exposing the dealer’s role in a financial scandal, a war is looming between local bikies gangs, and a state election has swept away the old conservative government and given power to a modernising, pro-business Labor administration.

Swann’s peculiar mix of talents, including his knowledge of the city’s underworld and his electronic surveillance and counter surveillance skills, have caught the eye of the new state premier’s chief advisor, Heenan, who employs him as a a security advisor and fixer. No sooner does he take the job than Swann discovers someone is bugging the new premier’s office. Next he is thrown the task of vetting contracts for a major re-development project, which it becomes quickly apparent is rife with dirty money. Meanwhile, Benjamin Hogan, a rival from Swann’s past as a cop, who once tried to kill him, now a senior member of the state’s police force, appears intent on using his newfound power to settle up with his old adversary.

Into this complex web of relation ships and events Whish-Wilson weaves the stories of Blake Tracker, a young Aboriginal man who has just escaped from jail, and Des Foley, a veteran armed robber on the run, who has returned to Perth to settle a few old scores of his own.

Whish-Wilson is a master of dissecting the paper-thin line between corruption, crime and power that seems to have marked so much of West Australia’s history. Line of Sight examined this from the ground up. Zero At the Bone moved the action to the boardrooms of the state’s class of mining robber barons. Old Scores takes the story to the next level, politics, where money and corruption flow like a rapid acting virus.

As is the case with the first two instalments, Old Score combines a fast moving, tension filled crime tale with acute social and political observations and stunning prose and characterisations.

‘Calhoun was hiding in his own home. Swann glanced into the windowless bedroom off the kitchen, saw a semi-automatic rifle, a brace of American grenades, tear-gas canisters and ammo clips and boxes – the perfect room to make a last stand.

Calhoun saw the glance, grave a shrug of his shoulders. ‘Wanna beer?’

Swann could see it in his eyes – not used to be cooped up, cut off from the world. Hadn’t been answering his phone. Sitting in the darkness at night. Loneliness on top of worry. Worry on top of shame. Shame on top of anger. 

Waiting.

Too proud to take a holiday with his family. Sticking around, a petty act of defiance. The world of security goons a small one, and everything to do with reputation. Private armies made up of ex-cops, soldiers, crims and thugs. Calhoun owned one of the biggest now taken off him.’

Old Scores not only confirms Whish-Wilson’s as the master chronicler of Western Australia’s noir underbelly, but one of the best crime writers working in Australia today.

Old Scores is available here from Fremantle Press , who have made it available as a reasonably priced e-book. This means overseas readers of Pulp Curry, who are keen to read Whish-Wilson can now finally do so affordably.

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2 Responses

  1. That’s going straight on to my summer reading pile.

  2. Mmmm, I don’t want piles for the Summer but I’ll definitely be reading it.

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