Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Sandra Winter-Dewhirst has begun writing a series of novels of which The Popeye Murder is the first. It was re-released (I believe with a new cover) in conjunction with the launch of her second novel in the series A Royal Murder. A third novel, A Festival of Murders, will be published in due course.
As well as being a great story, The Popeye Murder clearly shows the author’s passion for food, wine and all things South Australia, especially Adelaide. This is a story of a journalist, Rebecca Keith, who is the protagonist in both stories in the series so far, finding herself right in the middle of the murders on which she is reporting. Readers are introduced in a non- dramatic way to the main characters so that we know them before the real drama begins. As the editor of Taste in the Advertiser Rebecca joins a select group of journalists and food industry celebrities on the ferry Popeye for a cruise on the Torrens River to promote Nick Picorino’s Australian Food Festival. After his welcome speech Nick grabs the handle of one of the pewter cloches and lifts it with a theatrical swish (38) to reveal a gruesome sight – the head of the chef, Leong Chew. Thus develops a tale similar to The Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries or Midsomer Murders television dramas. Indeed, the Life & Style Magazine spoke of the novel , The Popeye Murder, as ‘Midsomer Murders comes to Adelaide’.
Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jarvie, who runs the police inquiry into the Leong Chew murder, is also attracted to Rebecca and is worried he might have a conflict of interest if he continues with this case. His superintendent lays his fears to rest. Much to Jarvie’s dismay, Rebecca takes a deep interest in the case. However, several of the clues she uncovers help in eventually unmasking the killer but at the same time put her in his sights. Despite the threat of danger, as a journalist, she believes that the public have a right to know the facts. She strides a fine line between this belief and doing something that might jeopardise the case for the detectives.
While the story is not a page turner and does little to persuade anyone that its content is original, the writing styles, which vary according to character or circumstance, keep readers interested. This is one of the strengths of the book. This is light-hearted story, highlighting South Australia’s olive groves, greyhound racing, wineries, markets and newspaper industries, takes the reader on a tour of Adelaide and its environs. Even non-Australian readers, through Winter-Dewhirst’s detailed descriptions, would see these settings come to life. I particularly liked to see an Afterword in the book which gave even more of South Australia’s history that contributes so much to the life-style described in the novel.
Sandra Winter-Dewhurst has been named in the top five best sellers for Wakefield Press (Google+), and in 2008 in Adelaide’s premier daily paper one of South Australia’s fifty most influential people. Her background is in journalism and management and she spent over thirty years working in media including ten years as State Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, overseeing over 350 people across television, radio and online production. She holds a Bachelor Degree in English and Politics from the University of Adelaide as well as a Bachelor Degree in Journalism from the University of South Australia.
This was a very easy book to read and I look forward to reading more of the adventures of the intrepid journalist Rebecca Keith and watch her relationship with the dashing Chief Inspector progress. A good quality romp through the pages in the context of murder is well worth a read.
The Popeye Murder
By Sandra Winter-Dewhirst