Who is Pufferfish? I hear you ask. And further, where is Tasmania?
Location first. For those who do not live in this part of the world, Tasmania is the island state off the bottom of Victoria and often forgotten by map makers. Known as the Apple Isle, it has a population of 515,000. The citizens there refer to the rest of Australia as The Mainland. Until I read the Pufferfish books I thought it was a peaceful kind of place, full of bearded environmentalists in shorts and woolly hats. But now I know. Tassie (as we like to call it ) is a hot-bed of crime. Drugs, art heists, crooked cops. weird murders, it’s got everything. And Pufferfish is the man who deals with it.
Let us meet him in his own words, ‘… I am Heineken. Detective Inspector Franz Heineken. Known to one and all as Pufferfish.
An insular bastard: that about sums me up…Many would say – on either side of the law – that I’m in fact an utter, total bastard.’
Heineken comes from Rotterdam where he was also in the police force, but also where a tragedy occurred in his personal life. Lets just say he took matters into his own hands, and through some unofficial support, was able to migrate to Australia and the open arms of the TPF. (You guess).
He might get his name from a ‘detritus-eating scavenger of the murky shallows, spiky, deadly poisonous, primevally ugly and rotund. Ability to bloat and even explode under severe provocation’, but he is on the side of right. He is respected, even feared by most of his colleagues, and his relentless determination always wins through.
It was a revelation to me that the Tasmanian Police Force had so much manpower at their disposal. The TROG squad seems to be able to muster ten or fifteen men when special ops are required. Heineken has his own two offsiders plus a few other constables to support him in most of his work. Of course like all true hard men, he often goes off into danger alone, and gets a few bullet wounds for his pains. But he is not cowed.
Pufferfish has two weaknesses. One is playing scrabble, not very well, with an old friend. He does not often get down a five letter word, at one stage he gets a thrill from the possibility of getting down the word ‘better’.
But his true vice is ‘Lovely nougat. I pride myself on having only one weakness, which is being a helpless sugar slave. I crave the stuff, have an unbridled passion for sweetness, a dark desire to one day bodily drown-end the old life-deep in a vat of warm molten chocolate.’
Of course he comes across attractive women but he is mainly task-focused and engaged in a relentless struggle with his loathsome Chief Superintendent Walter d’Hayt.
In this, the first of the series, he is called to deal with a severed head found in a garbage bin. Here are his thoughts as he is helicoptered to the site of the crime,
‘Gender of head? Rest of corpse dead to the world in a sleeping bag? Rest of corpse in one piece?’
Pufferfish is a gem. A great voice, an interesting location and crazy complicated crimes.
I am so glad that this is the first of nine books, although some are hard to find. I found the first ones in a reprint at Fuller’s Bookshop in Hobart, the first books being written in the nineties but some in the last two years. Why Pufferfish hasn’t yet been made into a TV series is beyond me. Andrew Knight, where are you?