In crime fiction, particularly at the lighter, cosier end of the genre spectrum one of the issues that authors have to deal with is what I’ll call the Cabot Cove Effect. That being that in reality small towns and communities simply do not experience the number and variety of murders worthy of dramatic re-telling that even one book, let alone a series of them, demands. So there has to be something else about the books that makes it possible for readers to suspend disbelief. In my experience a lot of authors completely fail to achieve this which is the main reason I follow so few lighter series (many are started, few are finished). Having now published the second of what I hope will become a longer series of books set in the fictional Victorian town of Rusty Bore, population 147, Sue Williams could give lessons on how to get it right.
DEAD MEN DON’T ORDER FLAKE follows on from MURDER WITH THE LOT but you don’t have to have read the first book in order to enjoy this one. That fact is worth stating explicitly as it’s often difficult to dive into a series at anything other than the beginning so I am impressed when a book stands on its own merits. Furthermore, you could easily go back and read the first book after this one which is even less common. Full marks.
The next element Williams gets right is the tone of the story. It can’t be too serious (because of the aforementioned Cabot Cove Effect) but it can’t be so silly or gimmick-laden that it induces eye rolling in the average reader. Aside from the fact that there’s a higher than credible murder count for a small town, everything else about the story has a ring of truth so it is easy to ignore that one issue and go for the ride. The dead man of this book’s title is Leo Stone, an old flame of series heroine Cass Tuplin. Everyone in town thought Leo was dead. So dead they even held a remembrance ceremony and gave him a headstone. But he’s turned up now very much alive and with gun and/or diamond smuggling skills to his name. Or so the rumour mill goes. Meanwhile Cass is asked by the father of a local reporter to investigate her death. Police – in the form of Cass’ oldest son Dean – say Natalie Kellett was speeding and crashed her car at a notorious black spot. But her father is convinced this isn’t true. Could she have been working on a story important enough to have gotten her killed? Finding out proves to be very entertaining with lots of humour offsetting the dramatic moments.
The characters here are the sorts of people you work with or are related to or are neighbours with. OK maybe you don’t know anyone who owns multiple ferrets and don’t have a potential in-law who makes you buy g-string underwear while it’s on sale but I bet most of the characters display traits you are familiar with. The result is that it’s almost like being told a story about people you know. Sometimes they are annoying – I find Cass a mite too wrapped up in her adult children’s lives for example – but that’s what makes them realistic. And collectively Williams has created a group of people who are interesting and fun.
Based on the number of unfinished ones littering my ‘books to donate’ pile I suspect it sounds a lot easier than it actually is to wrte this kind of book well. Sue Williams has the balance of humour and drama just about perfect and without going over the top on ‘ocker traits’ provides an authentic Australian sensibility for this story. With a dash of nefarious local politics, a mysterious romantic element and terrific minor characters spanning twenty-somethings to the elderly there is something – or someone – for every reader.
This is the 13th book I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progress, sign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.
Publisher: Text 
Length: 281 pages