Author – Robert Gott
Published – 2013
Genre – Crime fiction
The holiday of the title is Christmas and I managed to get the timing right with this book and read it in early January. The setting is an unusual one for me, with the action taking place in Melbourne in 1943. Although I feel reasonably au fait with the European side of WWII, I wasn’t really familiar with the conditions in Australia at the time.
A gruesome discovery of two bodies on Christmas Eve disturbs Inspector Titus Lambert’s Christmas, but he doesn’t really mind as he’s not a big fan of Christmas. The murders are unpleasantly staged and have no obvious motive. The war effort has depleted the homicide department so Lambert is assisted by Detective Sergeant Joe Sable – a young Jewish man who is fresh out of his police training. At the time there is a rise in anti-Semitism and the murders may be linked to an underground movement of far-right pro-Hitler supporters and / or naturists (yes – naturists) which piques the interest of the Intelligence community. Sable is asked to work with the Military Intelligence to infiltrate this subversive organisation.
The murders continue and the pressure is on both Lambert and Sable to find some link and motive to prevent more deaths. The whole exercise is something of a revelation for Sable, who hasn’t been brought up in a particularly devout household but it forces him to consider what being Jewish means, especially in light of the atrocities taking place in Europe.
The story isn’t only told from the perspective of the investigators, but also from that of some of the suspects and it is frightening to see how easily those who feel disenfranchised can be encouraged to support, and act, on such shameful ‘beliefs’. A lesson that is equally relevant today!
What particularly struck me about this book was the contrast between the pursuers and the pursued. The detectives involved could not have been more decent people and those committing the crimes seemed particularly lacking in morals. In similar stories that are set in the 21st century the majority of investigators wouldn’t have such high personal standards. I think this serves to make the perpetrators’ actions seem even more unpleasant. The investigators also show more ‘progressive’ thinking and behaviour, which contrasts with the anti-Semitic, homophobic and pro-Nazi themes.
A particularly interesting aspect is the involvement of a female police officer in some of the action – the period is one where men were forced to reappraise their views on equality and the capacity to which women were able to take on roles normally carried out by men. Constable Lord is a great way of demonstrating this and she presents a strong and unflappable character.
Thank you to Scribe for a review copy of the book. You can see another point of view on the Fair Dinkum Crime blog.