TOO EASY is the second novel to feature sometimes self-deprecating, always amusing social worker Stella Hardy and proved the perfect start to my reading year. The combination of a plot depicting organised chaos, insightful social commentary, genuine humour and engaging characters was exactly right.
Though it’s easy enough to follow, the plot is complex and has many elements that I don’t want to give away but it starts with Stella receiving a call from her best friend. Phuong is a police detective whose boyfriend, also a policeman, is under a corruption cloud. He wants to find a particular drug dealer to corroborate his version of a questionable incident and Phuong thinks that Stella, who has a different sort of connection to Melbourne’s dodgy underbelly than the police, might be able to help with the hunt. Stella and Phuong almost come to blows over the request and what Stella thinks of as Phoung’s lousy taste in men but their friendship is a strong one. The search though puts Stella in the path of a murderous bikie gang, other corrupt police and teenagers whose lives are being threatened in a truly grim way. At the same time her own love life undergoes a test as her artist boyfriend finds a new muse.
Whether they be total geniuses or alcoholic loners I can struggle to believe in many crime fiction protagonists. But Stella Hardy seems like a real person I might actually know. Heck at times she seems like one of the voices inside my own head. The depiction of her as being good at her job (at the wonderfully named WORMS) but struggling with the inane bureaucracy rings absolutely true. As does her knack of setting somewhat unrealistic personal goals – such as becoming a gourmet cook – and spectacularly failing to meet them. That she faces everything in her life with a combination of wry humour and stubbornness help make her into an authentically Aussie woman.
The story that unwinds in TOO EASY is at times madcap but somehow even the most outlandish elements of it have the same aura of truthiness as Green’s characters. It is full of people doing stupid things for entirely believable reasons – either good or bad – and events build up at just the right pace.
There was a time not so long ago when the general consensus seemed to be that the only truly Australian stories could take place in ‘the Outback’. J.M. Green is one of a new breed of artists proving that urban locations and city dwellers can offer equally compelling depictions of what it is to be Australian. She has captured the essence of Melbourne living, provided a thoroughly modern heroine and a supporting cast that oozes familiarity in a story that is an absolute hoot, where even the scary bits are tinged with comedy.
Publisher: Scribe, 2017
Length: 292 pages
Source of review copy: I bought it