A Body of Work

Author:  Janice Simpson

Publisher/Year:  Hybrid Publishers/2018

Publisher Description

What happens when the keynote speaker at an important arts festival is found dead?

Welcome to modern Melbourne, UNESCO City of Literature, home to arts festivals galore as well as the internationally famous Melbourne Cup horse race. But the Imagine Festival, held in late August, has more surprises in store than the Festival Director planned when he discovers Deborah Dangerfield’s lifeless body upstairs at the Malthouse Theatre.

Join Senior Sergeant Brendan O’Leary, a family man who’s struggling to keep up with life’s changes and Ange Micelli, fourth daughter of Italian migrants, who’s fit, fiery and ready to go. Together they make a formidable team in this fast-moving thriller that uncovers much more than just the identity of the murderer.

Reviewer 1: Sarah Jackson

Sex, drugs, politics and scandal await the eager reader

Socialite and author, Deborah Dangerfield, turns up dead at the Malthouse Theatre hours before the launch of her latest, and potentially controversial novel. Detective Brendan O’Leary, his DC Ange Micelli, and their team, must work through the mire of conflicting evidence to find the perpetrator. What starts off as a potential crime of passion, becomes quickly embroiled in the world of drugs, racing, high (and low) society, and of course, political scandal.

Simpson has clearly done her research in terms of how police conduct investigations, and the issues, both internal and external, that they face in the completing of their work. The progression of the case, being one full of false leads, difficult witnesses and conflicting statements, is believable and adds to the overall flavour of the story.

One of the most endearing features of the book is the rich and detailed description of both person and place. Simpson provides full and easily visualised accounts of the locations, and those familiar with Melbourne and Ballarat will readily identify the places in the story.

The characters are well-developed, with much detail devoted to their personal lives and the impact that their socio-economic and cultural backgrounds has on the performance of their work. With their human flaws, the players are not always likeable, but are always believable.

“A Body of Work” offers the reader a complex plot with multiple twists and turns. One needs to keep up with the intertwining interpersonal relationships between the extensive cast of players to fully appreciate the plot development and multifaceted conclusion

I expect that this will be the first of a series of book by Simpson, and look forward to the next instalment.  Recommended for lovers of crime thrillers, who are looking for a little more than a standard quick and dirty noir-style read.  Grab a beverage of your choosing, find a cosy place to sit, and get stuck in.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Reviewer 2: Dorothy Johnston

Senior Sergeant Brendan O’Leary possesses gravitas, which means, according to my dictionary, dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner. Angela Micelli, part of O’Leary’s team, thinks about her boss’s qualities, in particular his leadership qualities, when she’s obliged to take charge during the investigation of a high profile murder case. Micelli may not have gravitas, or the ability and experience to direct a team in the way O’Leary does, but she possesses other qualities – great physical courage and stamina, the ability to think quickly and to make connections. If A Body of Work is her baptism of fire, then she comes through it brilliantly.

The relationship between O’Leary and Micelli is multi-layered; there is mutual respect as well as tension, and a kind of stubborn will to keep going no matter what. This relationship provides a solid basis for the novel, as do the relationships between other members of the team.

A Body of Work is, on one level, a story about class divisions. O’Leary and Micelli come from relatively humble backgrounds. Deborah Dangerfield, who is found dead on the eve of her much-publicised book launch, is a Melbourne socialite. The Victorian Minister for Racing, Phillip Sinclair, who was to have launched the book, moves in similar circles, as well as having connections with less glamorous sections of the racing industry. With the spring carnival coming up, Sinclair’s mind is on his own future, and Simpson takes some pleasure in putting him on the spot, through the pointed questioning of one of the DCs in particular.  Class divisions are also made apparent in Ballarat, where O’Leary and Deborah Dangerfield grew up.

The following dialogue sequence comes from early in the novel, when readers are just getting to know the main characters. O’Leary talks about his back ground when he and Micelli are having a drink together.

‘When I went for promotion I was asked to describe the first job I had.’

‘Which was?’

‘Digging spuds.’

‘Of course. You’re a country boy,’ she said, looking him up and down.

‘More spuds than we knew what to do with. Spuds to plant, spuds to water, spuds to harvest. Spuds everywhere you looked. Mum cooked them every night for tea, and you know what, we never ran out.’

Simpson is a skilled satirist, especially when it comes to poking fun at social pretensions. Dangerfield’s book was to have been launched as part of a festival at Melbourne’s Malthouse. Festival organisers, other guests and catering staff, come in for their share of mild but well-directed scorn. Humour is also an important aspect of the interactions between the detectives, who are over-worked, snatching meals as they go, forced to respond to escalating violence, but still able to offer each other a kind of earthy ballast.

Illegal drugs play an important part in the story too, involvement with their distribution causing injury, fear and death. The plot has a surprising ending, though the clues are there for readers to pick up on.

I’m sure the partnership between Micelli and O’Leary will give readers as much pleasure in future novels as it does in A Body of Work.