Murder mystery with a double helping of humour
Dead Men Don’t Order Flake
By Sue Williams
Text Publishing, 308pp, $29.99
Dead men don’t tell tales but, according to Australian author Sue Williams there are also other things they don’t do. “Dead men don’t order flake, she writes at the beginning of this finely wrought and highly amusing crime novel.
Yet that’s exactly what the supposedly deceased Leo Stone requested the April afternoon he strolled into Cassandra Tuplin’s takeaway, “his gladiator shoulders filling up her shop doorway. As well as being the owner-operator of the only takeaway shop in the tiny town of Rusty Bore, Tuplin is a celebrated, if unlicensed, private eye.
Dead Men Don’t Order Flake is the second of a series of comic crime capers set in Rusty Bore and featuring Tuplin. In many ways, give or take a change of gender, she seems reminiscent of Ronnie Corbett’s fabulous television character Charley Farley the boy detective.
The first Cass Tuplin adventure, Murder with the Lot, was published in 2013. This new mystery is dedicated to the author’s long-suffering partner, Ross, who, she confides in the acknowledgments, provides “hilarious early-morning plot ideas before any caffeine has passed his lips. Lucky her!
As well as creating a sparkling set of highly individualised comic characters, Williams has made eerily actual the fictional town of Rusty Bore, population 147, with its cast of sometimes surreal human inhabitants and its diverse mix of dogs, cats, ferrets and other animals.
Twenty years ago, even though his body had never been found, the town had farewelled Leo Stone in a top-notch memorial service attended by every resident. The eulogy had brought many, including Tuplin, to tears.
Yet here he was ordering fish and chips.
In a rambling yet entertaining narrative, Williams follows Tuplin as she attempts to uncover what happened to Leo during his long-term disappearance.
To further complicate the situation, soon after Leo’s reappearance Tuplin has to deal with an actual death: that of Natalie Kellett, a young local journalist who worked at the Muddy Soak Cultivator, a weekly owned for generations by the Fitzgeralds, a family of highly dubious provenance. As is soon made clear, the politically powerful Andy Fitzgerald — and perhaps a certain Morris Temple — may be up to something extremely dodgy. Natalie’s father Gary, an ex-bank manager with a severe booze problem, is convinced the car crash that killed his daughter was no accident.
Without giving away too much, in Dead Men Don’t Order Flake Williams cleverly explores whether the stark suspicions of Natalie’s dad are merely the delusions of a grieving alcoholic parent or if he is correct in claiming his daughter’s death was part of a conspiracy to silence and eliminate a nosy investigative journo.
To further complicate matters, Tuplin’s takeaway store had to be refurbished after it mysteriously burned down 16 months ago. Her eldest child, Dean, a senior constable who has never been permanently promoted, is deeply puzzled by this.
One of the most enjoyable and intriguing parts of this novel deals with the conflict and antagonism between Tuplin the part-time private detective and her police officer son as they endeavour to crack the case.
Williams has created a wonderful new series in the comedy crime genre. Dead Men Don’t Order Flake is a multilayered yarn that mines the rich ore of regional Australia and I can’t wait for the next Cass Tuplin adventure.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University.
The Weekend Australian, June 18 – 19, 2016, Review, Books p 22.