Crime Fiction Alphabet: V is for Victoria (the bit of Australia not the Queen)

I have neglected the last couple of alphabet letters but it can’t be helped: day-job workload and a dead computer reduced my blogging in recent weeks. Unfortunately I’ve chosen to return to the meme for a pesky letter of the alphabet for which I could think of only two subjects to discuss. One is a theme common to crime fiction but is a word I can never spell correctly and the other is a state in Australia that I am meant to be at war with. I’ve chosen to go with Victoria, the state of Australia that we South Australians are taught to hate from birth (it’s all to do with sport which is a subject that bores me witless) but which is home to some of the best crime fiction in the country. Victoria is a small state in the south-east of the country and its capital city is Melbourne.

As far as I know Carolyn Morwood only wrote two novels featuring Marlo Shawe who is a professional cricketer and amateur sleuth based in Melbourne but I enjoyed them both and would like to know what happened to this author. In the second of the books, 2002’s A Simple Death, Marlo finds a homeless man who has been bludgeoned to death and her boss becomes a suspect in the case.

One of the world’s earliest mystery stories is Fergus Hume‘s 1893 tale Mystery of a Hansom Cab in which a hansom cab driver finds his passenger has been poisoned and has died during their journey. I think I read this book many years ago but I picked up a new copy last year when a new publisher released it in a spiffy leather-ish binding.

Garry Disher has two crime series which are both set in Victoria. The novels featuring Detective Inspector Hal Challis and Sergeant Ellen Destry take place in and around the Mornington Peninsula, one of the state’s holiday destinations. The first novel of the series is 1999’s The Dragon Man which involves the investigation into a series of assaults on women and takes place across a blistering Australian summer (fans of the series take note, Disher’s website says there’s a new instalment of this series with a working title of Whispering Death due this year)

Jarad Henry has written two books set in Victoria. I haven’t read the first, Head Shot, which is about a drug squad detective who is accused of murdering a gangland figure who killed a policeman but I did read the second novel to feature the same detective as its central character. Blood Sunset takes place across a sweltering Melbourne summer in which bushfires ring the city and detective Rubens McCauley investigates the death of a young runaway. Melbourne, warts and all, is a distinct character in this terrific novel (more rumours, via tweets from the emerging writer’s festival held in Melbourne recently, are that Jarad Henry’s third novel will be out later this year)

Kerry Greenwood’s historical series starring Phyrne Fisher features the Melbourne of the 1920’s while her Corinna Chapman series takes place in the present day, inner-city version of the place. While the series is definitely at the lighter end of the crime fiction spectrum it does present a very recognisable Melbourne, including some of its darker elements (fact this time, Greenwood’s historical series and its Victorian setting will be brought to television next year).

Leigh Redhead‘s protagonist is Melbourne based former stripper Simone Kirsch. In her first outing, 2004’s Peepshow, Kirsch has enrolled in a course at security college (she won’t be accepted into the police force due to her former career) and becomes involved in the hunt for the kidnappers of one of her old dancing colleagues. This series shows off the seedier side of life in Melbourne .

Lindy Cameron‘s trilogy featuring Melbourne-based private detective Kit O’Malley is a treat. The first book in the series, Blood Guilt (1999), uses another sweltering Australian summer (trust me this is an almost annual occurrence so it’s not surprising to see the weather as a recurring theme) as the backdrop for a philandering husband investigation which turns into a hunt for a murderer.

Peter Klein brings the world of Victorian horse-racing to life in his series of novels featuring John Punter, a professional gambler and amateur detective. These novels have a real ring of authenticity due to Klein’s long history with the racing world in which he started as a strapper. Although racing takes place everywhere in the country (we are a nation of gamblers after all) it is the Melbourne Cup that, quite literally, stops the country on the first Tuesday each November and Klein draws out this aspect of Victoria’s life very well in novels such as Punter’s Turf.

Peter Temple made his home in Victoria after leaving his native South Africa and spending time in several places (including Sydney) and most of his crime fiction is set in the state. His quartet of novels featuring lawyer/gambler/private detective Jack Irish paint a picture of Melbourne that you’d swear could only have been drawn by someone born and bred there. It’s the little things, like the lamenting of the old-timers for the loss of the football clubs they knew and understood, that make Temple’s Melbourne come alive.

Melbourne is also home to one of the few writers of Australian crime caper novels I can think of. Shane Maloney‘s series featuring political aide and bumbling amateur sleuth Murray Whelan is based in Melbourne. Melbourne certainly seems to be the home of comedy in Australia (it boasts one of the world’s largest and most influential comedy festivals) so perhaps it’s not surprising it is also home to some fictional crime comedy.

Have you read any of these crime tales set in Victoria? or have I missed your favourite crime fiction set in Victoria? Do tell in the comments


Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting the crime fiction alphabet meme which requires the posting of an article relating to the letter of the week. Do join in the fun by reading the posts and/or contributing one of your own. You don’t have to write every week.