Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Making up my mind just where to begin an analysis of this book was a challenge. It is the first book in a new series, it has a setting that reeks privilege with school characters who have long lost touch with the ordinary man in the street, it has an obnoxious lead detective who is indeed no fool, a fraught relationship between detective and son, and an odd relationship between the detective and his superiors who, for reasons unknown at first, are cutting him a lot of slack. Then there is the muscular prose of the writer that I like a great deal.
The book’s opening is dramatic enough. A teacher, standing at his window, is shot to death. Detective Cardilini is assigned the case, having been told that the death was an accident probably caused by roo shooters firing from an adjacent paddock. Cardilini’s immediate boss is at pains to ensure that Cardilini will bring in the expected findings. He is outspoken in telling his detective that their chief and the Deputy Commissioner both attended the school.
Detective Cardilini, whose son Paul is in trouble with the law, has an unusual relationship with his son. Paul blames his father for the death of his mother, and finds it difficult interacting in a normal way with the untidy overweight, drunken sot that is his father. We are well into the book before he realizes that his father is trying to turn his life around. In the meantime, pressure at home runs into more pressure as the school principal Dr Braun pushes for a finding of accidental death. This is where Jeffreys shows his writing skills. In situations such as these it is easy to overwrite, to make the principal more remote or powerful than he needs to be. Dr Braun did not become principal of an Ivy League school without knowing ways to handle awkward situations. Braun changes very little; it is his Deputy Principal Robson who changes from an obstructionist to become a support for Cardilini’s investigation.
There is much crammed into this novel. The characters are odd from the time the story begins. The pedophile master that nobody would speak ill of, the frightened boy who is clearly one of the pedophile’s victims, the very odd senior boy Carmody who has through means unidentified gained overwhelming influence in the school. There is a character named Salt who is attached to Cardilini’s investigation, who appears to hold the rank of sergeant, but whose real purpose is kept obscured.
The writer’s prose is clear, objective and strong. His presentation methods are downright sloppy. Chief among these is the untoward use of italic script. The expected development of the plot is not standard and, while the situations were regular enough, it was the writer’s habit of jumping all over the place that kept me on edge. This issue of structure stems, I am sure, from having too many bits of information within the storyline. The story is incident-packed and character-heavy. The characters, especially the lead players, have too much going on in their lives. To sum up, I would judge that the book is just too busy.
The author, Robert Jeffreys is an interesting man in his own right. He has knocked about a bit. Actor, teacher, builder, labourer, cleaner, real estate agent, personal security agent and playwright is a full resume in any man’s books. He has written radio plays, won awards for them, and published an anthology of original verse. Man at the Window is his first novel. With such a resume it is expected that additional titles in this series can only become more refined and structured more fluidly by a writer in control of his product.
Man at the Window
By Robert Jeffreys