Crime Scene: TANIA CHANDLER Dead in the Water. Reviewed by Robin Elizabeth
Crime fiction is blended beautifully with elements of commercial women’s fiction in Dead in the Water.
Tania Chandler brings back the femme-fatalesque Brigitte in the sequel to her Davitt and Ned Kelly Awards shortlisted debut novel, Please Don’t Leave Me Here, but although it is a sequel it can be easily enjoyed without reading the first book. However, readers will understand the characters (and some of the references to back-pain) more readily if they have read the previous novel.
Dead in the Water pushes many of the stereotypes of crime fiction aside, while still paying homage to its essence, to create a more female-centric story. There is the stereotypical drunk policeman, but he’s the main character’s husband, Aidan, rather than the lead. He also doesn’t look like the standard beaten-down cop: he’s a bit sexy, not pudgy or smelling of stale cigarettes, and seems to keep his drinking to sinking beers at home. There’s the fallen woman, Brigitte, but she’s the lead character, not an aside or a love interest. Brigitte is a former stripper made good with three kids and a job in television production. Her past as a stripper is detailed in the grunge infused precursor, complete with violence and drugs, however, in this novel the focus is more on maintaining her life as it stands now, a mum and a professional.
The book opens with a slice of Brigitte’s life. Her afternoon is so perfect that it could inspire tampon commercials. She is jogging along a scenic route, pushing a pram, with a dog in tow. She gets home, has a lovely chat with her neighbour, puts her baby down for an afternoon nap, said baby actually sleeps, then her sexy husband comes home and steam starts to lift from the pages:
‘Shh. Everything’s OK.’ She stroked his hair, and then reached back over her head, gripped the arm of the couch, closed her eyes, and whispered in his ear what she wanted him to do to her. Repeatedly.
Their beers went warm in the last of the afternoon sun.
Not only does Brigitte have the perfect husband, and perfect children who don’t interrupt sexy time, but she also has a glamorous job – she works in television production. In typical commercial women’s fiction style, she has the boss who thinks he’s funny but really isn’t, the colleague who doesn’t know when she’s treading on people’s toes, and Brigitte herself is so gorgeous that even though she’s employed in production, she still gets picked to act in advertisements. On top of that, she has the mandatory ex-boyfriend who makes things awkward. But given that this is also crime fiction, the introduction of this character denotes a turn for the deadly.
From the moment Brigitte’s ex, Matt Elery, is mentioned everything in her life starts to fall apart. Sexy times are off the cards, work hours get longer, clothes start getting threadbare, and even the weather turns bad. Soon afterwards a dead body shows up, and nothing is idyllic for Brigitte any more. The novel starts to delve into deeper issues of overcoming trauma, how past ordeals change your outlook on life, and learning who you truly trust and value. And while the narrative is delving into Brigitte’s deep psychological scars, a murder needs to be solved. Her life depends on it:
Brigitte put her hands over her mouth and sucked in her breath as a team of police divers lifted a body onto the wharf near the post to which an orange lifebuoy was attached. The sign above the lifebuoy said: Lifebuoy is for saving lives.
The strength of Dead in the Water is its ability to take elements of commercial women’s fiction and blend them into crime fiction to create a female lead with female issues like work, friends and family. Chandler gives a fresh take on this genre, rather than simply attaching a female name to a stereotypically masculine lead and giving the standard crime fiction experience. Readers wanting something a little different in crime fiction, yet still hungry for the thrill of murder, deception, and red herrings, will enjoy this book thoroughly.
Tania Chandler Dead in the Water Scribe Publications 2016 PB 288pp $29.99
Robin Elizabeth blogs at http://riedstrap.wordpress.com about her love of Australian literature, depression, and whatever tickles her fancy bone.
To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.