Book review: Blood Sunset by Jarad Henry

Henry Blood Sunset
By Jarad Henry (Orion, £6.99 UK paperback)

Detective Rubens McCauley (great name!) is at the end of his night shift, having recently returned to work after being injured and suspended (a story told in the author’s debut novel Head Shot, which I haven’t read), when a cafe owner calls to report a dead body in his yard. Feeling exhausted and not wanting to face several hours of admin work, McCauley is persuaded by his junior partner to classify the death, that of a teenage boy, as a non-suspicious overdose. The next morning, however, he has severe internal doubts about his casual behaviour, and after following up with the coroner and checking the boy’s effects, realises that the death was most likely not accidental. McCauley’s unpleasant superior, Ben Eckles (known as “Freckles”) does not want to reclassify the death because it would make the department, and more specifically him (as he has signed off McCauley’s initial report), look incompetent. McCauley disagrees and the two have an argument, resulting in McCauley being sent on “carer’s leave” to help look after his sick mother.

Naturally, McCauley instead decides to investigate the boy's death on his own. He’s frustrated at the politics and political correctness that are impeding the case and loses no time in persuading, pressuring or threatening a series of people (mainly medical professionals) to confirm the death as murder. Although he gets his wish, the case is handed to the homicide department. This does not deter McCauley from continuing his own line of unorthodox, almost vengeful, investigation.

Blood Sunset, set in the St Kilda district of Melbourne, is a deeply atmospheric, readable thriller, and one I enjoyed a lot. It isn’t without flaws, however, the most obvious one being McCauley’s stupidity in pursuing his investigation independently of the homicide division instead of trying to coordinate with them, in the process putting people at risk (particularly his ex-wife Ella, but also at least one young witness), and leading to yet more inevitable confrontations with his superiors and colleagues – not to mention the risk of queering the pitch of the official case. Nevertheless, the portrayal of the community of St Kilda is extremely well done, and although the pace of the first half of the novel is over-leisurely (providing recaps of the previous novel and McCauley's resultant insecurities, which slow the pace), the studies of the region’s lowlife and nightlife, and the plight of the teenagers involved in the story, are vivid and gripping, if harrowing at times.

As well as conveying an authentic sense of place, the author adds human interest via McCauley’s extended family, to whom he feels committed but also feels that he lets down owing to his dedication to his job. These aspects of the book are handled very well, particularly the scenes with McCauley’s mother and niece Chloe, who is possibly beginning to take illegal drugs. I found the character of Ella, a dedicated nurse, less plausible.

The climax to the novel is exciting, but marred for me by my sense of irritation that McCauley has only himself to blame for the things that go wrong through rushing to follow up his own hasty conclusions without collaborating or leaving information for colleagues in case of cock-ups (which of course occur, as any reader of the genre could have told McCauley). I also guessed early on the identity of the villain, but although this final unmasking was not a surprise, I was impressed with the clues and tracking that led the detectives to a premature solution, the suspense of the plot, and how the author gradually reveals the motivation both of the crime and, movingly, what was really going in on the life and mind of the boy who was killed.

I thank Bernadette of Reactions to Reading, whose review of this novel encouraged me to read it. I am very glad I did, as I think the series has great potential – so long as the author irons out a tendency for over-exposition. He has set up the ending of Blood Sunset to allow the series to take a slightly different direction, which I think will be to its benefit.

Other reviews of Blood Sunset are at Boomerang Books, Aussiereviews, Crime Down Under (reading notes), and the Australian publisher's (Allen&Unwin) website.

Author website

YouTube video about Blood Sunset (Australian edition).

8 thoughts on “Book review: Blood Sunset by Jarad Henry

  1. Your informative reviews are always a temptation to buy more books especially with Dorte’s Global Challenge ahead.

  2. This would certainly be a good one to read for “Australia”, Norman – a quick read. (Unlike Truth which is far meatier and deeper.)

  3. And it would be good if SOME participants reviewed something else than Peter Temple! LOL
    I also think this one sounds good though I agree that detectives who run unnecessary risks are annoying. There must be other routes to the truth.

  4. Maxine – Thanks so much, as always, for such a wonderful review. Like you and Dorte, I mind it a lot when the sleuth takes unnecessary risks, especially when s/he should know better. Still, this one sounds interesting. You are a TBR enabler, you know….. ; )

  5. I’m not the only one, Margot 😉
    Exactly, Dorte, we must provide you with some variety. I’ll do my utmost 😉 (Just sometimes, a special book gets published and several people who have been eagerly awaiting it rush to read it at the same time.)

  6. I’m glad you liked the book despite its flaws (and I agree – great name – that would get my vote for the year if I were giving awards for such things). I was discussing your thoughts with my crime reading buddy at work and we both realised that we are more forgiving of investigator stupidity – especially where it’s depicted as ‘anti authoritarian’ type stuff – when it’s done by Aussies because Aussies to tend to be like that. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad quality – just something you see a lot more of here than anywhere else I’ve visited or lived – I know myself I’ve done some really daft things at work that have hampered my career development because I’m basically scornful that anyone higher up could possibly know what they’re talking about. I suspect at times this is a useful outlook on the world and at other times it is utterly harmful to the big picture but I don’t tend to be able to work out which is which. At least not beforehand.
    I haven’t heard or seen anything around the traps here about whether or not there will be another book. I hope so as I too thought the potential new direction would be interesting.

  7. Oh and I forgot to have a moan – allowing for exchange rates the price you quoted is less than half of what I would pay to buy the book here now (it’s a third of what I actually paid because I bought the book as a new release). And Australian publishers wonder why we simply don’t buy books here.

  8. Thanks for the comments, Bernadette, I was hoping we could compare notes on this book. And sorry about the price, how awful. Perhaps Australia still clings to an equivalent of the National Net Book Agreement (one of the things that has reduced choice a lot in the UK via skewing the market to “promoted, mass-appeal” books at the expense of the “mid list” author).
    I know just what you mean about Australians! I don’t like to stereotype but I have met several who are as you describe, and I was reminded very much about this when reading about Rubens McC. In his case it was interesting that his outer (over)-self-confidence was underlain by his inner insecurities.
    I don’t think I’d have noticed the negative aspects of his actions so much if I weren’t a veteran reader of crime fiction! Also, it has to be said, that if RMc hadn’t been so pigheaded then the crimes would not have been investigated at all, and maybe even not solved when the homicide division did pick them up (as they didn’t seem very dynamic).
    For what it is worth, there are plenty of “undiplomatic” Brits in the sense that you write here, me included 😉

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