For all Constable Chris Blackie is at home in his role policing the seaside town of Queenscliff, at heart he’s a restless man, and the cases he’s involved in call out the restlessness in him. At the end of Through A Camel’s Eye he went on an extended trip to Egypt, and at the end of The Swan Island Connection he thinks he had some unfinished business with rivers, wide-ranging rivers in countries far from the one where he’d been born. This time it’s the world the other side of death that preoccupies his imagination as he investigates the murder of Gerard Hardy, strangled, it would seem, as he attempts to make contact with the spirit of the novelist Ethel Richardson (better known as Henry Handel Richardson, author of the Australian classic trilogy The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney). As usual, Chris and his sidekick Anthea are elbowed aside by the homicide team from Melbourne, who quickly decide on the culprit and see their job as getting a confession out of her. Meanwhile Chris and Anthea quietly and thoughtfully work on putting the picture together.
Queenscliff is a town of ghosts, not least the ghosts of the unfortunate Richardson family. The house in Mercer St where they lived when Ethel was a child still draws Richardson aficionados like Gerard Hardy, though probably not many of them believe they can contact her spirit. The local medium, Evelyn Marr, profits from it, as she does from many troubled souls trying to contact lost loved ones. Through Evelyn, Chris and Anthea are drawn into the world of the Tarot, neither of them believing in it but troubled by the intimations it seems to give.
It’s a deeper, more complex and more melancholy book than the two before it, but it offers the same pleasures of place, mood, and characterization. The character of Chris Blackie has developed over the three books into a quietly compelling one. He understands that there are no easy answers, even when a crime is solved; human motivation remains mysterious, like those unknown rivers.