Book review: Darkness for Light by Emma Viskic

Who doesn’t love a good crime novel set in their home town?

Caleb Zelic is getting his shit together. He’s in therapy. He’s reconciling with his pregnant wife. He’s building relationships in the deaf community. He’s making good decisions.

A mysterious new client, Martin Amon, wants to meet Caleb urgently at Collingwood Children’s Farm. Caleb finds Amon’s body, bullet to the back of the head, bled out amongst the chickens.

Federal cop, Imogen Blain, chases Caleb down in the street. She’s wants him to help her find Frankie, Caleb’s old business partner, whom he wants nothing to do with. Frankie was an unreliable, lying addict. Caleb thinks Imogen might be a rogue cop. When he refuses to help her, Imogen threatens him with a blackmail he’s afraid could stick, so he goes looking for Frankie. Seems, the not so good decisions of Caleb’s past won’t leave him alone.

The yachts in the marina were lifting on a choppy swell, their masts tickling a presto beat. Across the bay, the city towers glinted against a leaden sky. Nobody on the foreshore now, just a lone man fishing from the retaining wall, rainproof jacket zipped to the neck. No threat – he’d been here the past hour. Caleb glanced in his bucket as they passed: two small fish gaped desperately, their eyes dull silver coins.

Darkness for Light is the third thriller in the Caleb Zelic series, and like its predecessors it’s crawling with narrative tension and plot twists. From the tension caused by Caleb’s disability – he’s deaf but struggles to accept this himself, and missing lots of information he’s commonly misunderstood, often resulting in him getting entangled in dangerous situations. Then there’s the tension in his relationship – his wife has had previous miscarriages and he thinks the success of this pregnancy will make or break their relationship. To his love-hate relationship with his old business partner, Frankie who he’s never sure he can trust, but is bound to by their shared history. Viskic’s clipped writing style and generous sprinkle of short sentences give the reader a regular jolt, just in case you weren’t paying attention, and of course there are the complex series of alarming and often violent events that unfold from the twisty plot.

Relief from the carnage and story tension is provided in the moments when Caleb reflects on his love for his wife and family, his occasional meetings with Henry his therapist for a session at Queen Victoria Market, and the dry humour. Henry pokes and prods Caleb’s brain, exploring his neurosis while sniff testing melons and buy in potatoes.

Henry pressed his nose to another rockmelon. The man had clearly been a labrador in a previous life: the same floppy gold hair and outward geniality, same ability to grip his prey in unyielding jaws. Caleb usually went home from thier sessions feeling like his brain had been gently shaken loose. They’d been at it twenty minutes now and he already had a low-grade headache.

Viskic came out of the blocks firing with her first novel in the series. Resurrection Bay won the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, three Davitt Awards, a shortlist place for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger and New Blood awards, and the iBooks Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year award. Book two, And Fire Came Down won the 2018 Davitt Award for Best Novel, so it will be interesting to see what accolades Darkness for Light attracts.

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