JM GREEN Too Easy. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm
Too Easy continues an absolutely terrific series that falls on the noirish side of comic farce.
In 2015 JM Green’s debut novel Good Money launched social worker – and accidental detective – Stella Hardy onto the mean streets of Melbourne’s inner suburbs. It was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award, a Davitt Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.
Too Easy is the follow-up, the second novel in the series.
The story’s told from Hardy’s point of view and there is much in her personality that’s reminiscent of Leigh Redhead’s Simone Kirsch. A hard-talking, fast-thinking woman, Hardy wears her heart on her sleeve and her determination on her face. She’s resilient, gritty, and fearless, which is just as well, as she’s often as daft as a brush when it comes to knowing when to keep her nose out of things when it’s not wanted:
‘You can’t help. I understand. It was wrong to ask you. There are certain places that the average person should not voluntarily go.’
Average? AVERAGE? ‘I go to places, all sorts of places.’
‘You probably wouldn’t have the first clue about those druggy people, how to talk the language.’
‘I speak druggy.’
She sighed like she hadn’t heard me.
If you’ve read the first book, you’ll find that the full cast of supporting characters is back, but it’s not absolutely necessary to have done so. There’s plenty of short, sharp background detail along the way to get you quickly up to speed with everyone and everything, including Hardy’s day job with the Western and Outer Region Migrant Services (WORMS for short). Then there’s her love interest, artist Peter Brophy, her best friend Detective Phuong Nguyen, and Phuong’s lover Detective Bruce Copeland. While she’s playing it cool with Brophy (and making an absolute hash of that), Nguyen’s relationship with Copeland is moving forward too fast for Hardy. Mostly because she wouldn’t trust him as far as she could kick him (and she’d happily try), which isn’t helped when Copeland finds himself up to his neck in a police-corruption scandal:
‘The OTIOSE (integrity) commission people are very reticent, but the rumours are there’s a recording of an unidentified cop, most probably a Guns and Gangs detective, making deals, demanding cash and heroin.’
‘Wait, an officer of the law was behaving like a thug?’ I clapped a hand to my cheek.
Phuong squinted, a sign she was displeased. ‘Your relentless sarcasm, it’s food colouring for the soul.’
Hardy does a good line in wisecracking, which fits right in to the breezy, frenetic style of these novels, served up at a cracking pace with excellent action and character interactions every step of the way. Hardy’s day job gives her great insight into the local community and its denizens, and the integration of the different cultures that rub up against each other in western Melbourne creates plenty of colour, movement and an irresistible urge to eat every single meal that Hardy devours and visit every grocery shop she enters.
Beneath the colour and movement, the love-life complications and the day-job hassles, there’s a really good plot in Too Easy. When Nguyen’s boyfriend is suspected of police corruption, the only person who can help prove his innocence vanishes. A drug-dealer and associate of the notorious outlaw motorcycle gang the Corpse Flowers, Isaac Mortimer isn’t the sort of guy that you’d voluntarily look for, especially as Hardy finds herself dodging bikies, drinking tea with drug-dealers, hanging out with smart-mouthed teenagers, and reluctantly getting a couple of refugees from the day job involved in the hunt into the bargain
While she’s doing that she’s also dealing with a hefty dose of guilt over not being able to stand the man she’s trying to clear; she’s got a jealousy problem with the life model who’s consuming all of Brophy’s attention, and her boss is starting to exhibit some odd behaviour at work:
In the staff room, everyone was laughing and toasting and eating. I dragged myself to the kitchen to join the party. On the way, I passed Boss’s office – the blinds were drawn and the door shut. I tapped and opened it. ‘You coming to this thing? It’s your party.’
‘In a minute,’ he said. Used tissues littered the desk.
‘Ten years, Boss. The culmination of your life’s work.’
He lolled back in his chair and groaned.
It’s all ‘too easy’, obviously. In that slightly eye-rolling, ‘of-course-it’s-all-too-easy’ smart-alec way of somebody who has bitten off much too much and has just about choked to death as a result. Hardy, however, is luckily made of stern stuff. She chews, kicks, screams, thumps and blunders her way into trouble, back out again, and somehow manages to save the day.
Even when confronted with her own mortality she’s somehow able to keep her head, when quite a few around her are getting theirs kicked in. Readers would expect that the heroine of this style of novel is going to survive, but there are plenty of times in Too Easy where you can’t help but think it’s a 50/50 proposition.
On the noirish side of comic farce, this is an absolutely terrific series, with a strong sense of the melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds, and the smells, sights and sounds that go with that, plus great characters, pitch-perfect dialogue and a sharp, dry, acerbic sense of humour:
Cuong’s apartment on Hampshire Road was about six months old. Built on the site of an old foundry, developers had whacked together ninety-three cheapo studios – twenty floors, with miniature balconies – and named it La Fonderie. The suburb of Sunshine looked upon this menhir in its midst and laughed. How long before systemic entropy, starting with graffiti – not art, not your Banksy or Lushsux, but a mush of curse words, all ghetto and no cred – merged the place with its surroundings, with povo-scary town?
Stella Hardy is obviously a character destined to spend her life biting off more than she can chew – be it as an accidental detective or a fan of the local food. Either way she is exactly the sort of woman that you’d love to think is really striding the streets of Footscray, willing and able to eat everything in her path and fix everything in her wake. No matter how much those around her might cringe at the very thought.
JM Green Too Easy Scribe Publications 2017 PB 288pp $29.99
Karen Chisholm blogs from http://www.austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews well as author biographies.
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