Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Vodka Doesn't Freeze"

"Vodka Doesn't Freeze" by Leah Giarratano is an Australian entry in the crime genre and although not as bad as anything written by Australian crime author PD Martin, it's certainly nothing to get excited about. Just like "Devil's Peak", this has a serial killer targeting child abusers and child killers, and our main character Sgt Jill Jackson isn't sure she wants to find the murderer. After all, isn't he doing the community a favour?

As the genre dictates, your lead cop needs to have a Haunted Past. Although Jill isn't an alcoholic (like what you'd usually find in a crime novel), she was kidnapped and raped for three days when she was twelve. This is a little more extreme than the Haunted Pasts you usually get for your main character, and it just doesn't quite work. Jill is still (understandably) deeply traumatized by this event, suffering frequent flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks. It kind of made me wonder how she managed to pass any police psychiatric exams before being allowed into the force, especially since she acts like a fruitcake half the time.

To help her deal with her demons, Jill likes to run obsessively (where have I seen that before?), and has tight control over her life. Giarratano is a psychologist in real life, and indeed presents a complex, believable portrait of an abuse survivor. But, like I said, it seems difficult to believe Jill would have ever been allowed into the police force, and she doesn't exactly come across as a particularly cluey detective. It wasn't terribly fun spending time in Jill's headspace. In fact, it wasn't much fun spending time in any of the other characters' headspaces, as most of them were paedophiles.

Giarratano has done her research, and it shows. She also strikes an appropriate balance between demonstrating this research and keeping the story moving (something PD Martin fails miserably at). But in her effort to be gritty and believable, things just go a little too far. By the time the story is over, Jill has been physically assaulted by a bikie, breaking some of her ribs, sexually molested by a prisoner, urinated on by a killer, temporarily blinded, and beaten a little more. The assault by the bikie in particular is ridiculously gratuitous nastiness, as it has little to do with the rest of the plot, and Jill is up and doing her obsessive running again within days, despite apparently having broken ribs!

I'm not one who typically balks at a bit of nastiness in books or movies, but even I have my limits. With Jill's frequent degradation, her presentation (intentional or not) as a not-very-effective detective, and frank depictions of child abuse, it's very difficult to recommend this one. TV's Law & Order: SVU deals with the same subject matter - in a visual forum, no less - with tighter plotting and better characterization.

1 comment:

  1. Urinated on AND temporarily blinded. No, I don't think I'll go with this one.