Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
By the second page, the reader is gripped. Its clipped style creates a fast-paced engrossing narrative. Laconic Caleb, profoundly deaf due to childhood meningitis, is able to navigate the shady world of Melbourne and its surrounds with admirable ease and, at times, humour. His world is dangerous, with ruthless criminals hovering and the AFP far from friendly. His shaky relationship with Kat, his wife, is poised on a knife-edge. Rarely does it feel secure.
Frankie, his ex-partner, formerly a drug user, does not hesitate to break the law. She provides an added threat to his safety. For Caleb, nothing is certain.
Darkness for Light is the third novel involving Caleb Zelic. Emma Viskic deftly continues the saga of the deaf investigator’s plight in weaving his way through a life that threatens to envelop him.
Australian crime writing has produced some world-class and highly successful fiction in recent years. Jane Harper, Dervla McTiernan, and some would say Heather Rose, have sold millions; as have Garry Disher, Michael Rowbotham and Peter Temple. With such a lengthy list of the highest calibre, it is difficult to produce work that is fresh and original.
Emma Viskic succeeds on all counts. Her Caleb Zelic is unlike any previous ‘hero’. He is not a clever, failed detective, taken to drink, chain smoking and pessimism. Neither is he highly educated. His disability, in fact, adds to the development of the narrative. There is humour. Minor characters, ignorant of the difficulty he faces when confronted by strangers’ speech, suggest a guide dog, or a carer, even a white cane!
Tension mounts as Caleb finds himself embroiled in murders, assaults, kidnapping and money laundering. His deafness makes progress in sorting these crimes more precarious, but Emma Viskic handles this with sympathetic understanding. His frustrations hamper him at times, but essentially add an interesting dimension to his character.
The flavours of Melbourne are encapsulated in the café run by Alberto. His Italian family serves good food and coffee. His arancini cooking smells like deep-fried heaven! Alberto, a grandfather, keeps a caring eye on the local homeless and the deaf community.
There is a criminal element lurking over his business, and Caleb tackles this as well as the looming threats already mentioned.
Tilda, a self-composed, solemn little girl, is the child of one of the women, who is violently injured and hospitalised. Tilda retreats into her books which she avidly reads. For a time, Zelic assumes the role of a carer/uncle until disaster strikes.
Famous detectives in fiction often have an associate who is inferior in some way. They provide a backdrop to the brilliant exploits of the hero. Sherlock Holmes has Watson, Lynley has Havers, for example. Tedesco, who supports Zelic, is a detective with a shadowy past, who often advises and saves him from occasionally wild or impetuous decisions.
A favourite character for me is Sammi Ng, a perky sixteen-year-old. She is a computer whizz, who Caleb consults for his technology solutions. Cracking a computer’s password takes ten seconds, for which she charges $100. Amid his protests, she retorts, “$90 for brains, $10 for the work”!
This thriller is packed with incident and it’s written in a style that carries the reader along, sometimes at high speed. Scenes are varied – from Alberto’s café, Flinders Street station, a wind-swept pier.
This third thriller in the series does not disappoint. It should be welcomed by readers who enjoy this genre.
Emma Viskic is author of the critically acclaimed Caleb Zelic series. Resurrection Bay won the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, as well as an unprecedented three Davitt Awards: Best Adult Novel, Best Debut, and Readers’ Choice. It was iBooks Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year and was shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger and New Blood awards. Its sequel, And Fire Came Down, won the 2018 Davitt Award for Best Novel.
Recently, Emma Viskic and three other writers visited the US to promote Australian thriller writing in bookstores and other venues. Her work would be a boost to their bid to encourage sales there. Let’s hope Caleb Zelic’s exploits will find an ever- increasing fan base.
Darkness for Light
304pp; $29.99 C – Format Paperback.