The Final Cut by Robert Jeffreys

Reviewed by Rod McLary

There are persistent tropes in the crime genre – a grizzled and sometimes cynical older detective with a tense relationship with his superiors, a young enthusiastic new detective, fractured family relationships due to the hours and the nature of police work, and a crime which defies regular detective work – and all are present in The Final Cut.  However, the quality of the writing, the authenticity of the protagonists and the complexity of the crime to be investigated can overcome the sameness of the tropes.  And that is most definitely the case with this novel.

The structure of this novel is an interesting one.  Each chapter begins with the date and time as in chapter one ‘Sunday, 14 November 1965.  11.17pm’ and tell the story in real time of Detective Sergeant Robert Cardilini.  Other chapters are in italics but set some years previously as in chapter three ‘Monday, 4 January 1954.  11am’.  These latter chapters tell the story of Melody Penny eleven years old in 1954 and already damaged and marginalised; Melody’s story as it is set out in her chapters is not an uncommon one but is nonetheless confronting and the astute reader can all too easily anticipate her future.  One sentence is sufficient – He [her mother’s boyfriend] placed his hand under her legs and with each successive bump [of the car] his fingers pressed further [10].  Over the timeframe of the novel, the dates of Melody’s chapters creep closer to those of Cardilini’s until they mesh and the reader is confronted with the connections between the past and the present.

At the heart of The Final Cut is Cardilini who has just returned to work after being suspended from duty.  The reasons for his suspension are set out in the first novel in this series Man at the Window.  His superior officer Superintendent Robinson has decided to partner him with Detective Constable Lorraine Spencer ‘a woman with loosely curled, ruby-red hair’ [5].  As the novel is set in 1965, Cardilini’s view of DC Spencer as a partner echoes that of the community in general: ‘in a tight situation a woman couldn’t be relied upon’ [5].  Much against his will, Cardilini is partnered with Spencer and they are tasked with setting up a dedicated team investigating ‘domestics’.  Again, echoing the common view of the time, someone asks why should the police interfere between a man and his wife regardless of how he may be treating her?

Their first case is truly a horrifying one – a young woman is discovered naked and bound to a chair with electric cords and bleeding from cuts to her thighs.  A closer inspection of the house reveals a room in which there are ‘four directional standard lamps … behind six upholstered leather chairs’ [70-71].  To a good detective like Cardilini, the purpose of this room is immediately apparent.

From this point on, the story becomes more and more complex and involves highly-placed government officials, the chasing down of Nazi war criminals, and the making of pornographic ‘slasher’ films.  The Final Cut is without doubt a gritty and dark story but one which – for those readers who prefer their crime novels this way – is a compulsive, fast-paced and challenging read.

But the dark aspects of the novel are ameliorated by the sub-plots – the presence of Cardilini’s son Paul who is at high school but wants to join the police force and the growing sexual tension between Cardilini and Spencer – and even more so by the three-dimensional characters the author has created in the two main protagonists.  Their humanity and commitment to justice provides some reassurance to the reader that all is not as dark as it appears.

A key theme of the novel is the institutional indifference to the plight of women affected by domestic violence in the 1960s.  While in the early pages, spelling out the indifference does veer a little too much towards the polemic, the narrative arc soon overcomes this and the unfolding events make the point even more strongly without any loss of narrative tension.

Robert Jeffreys has crafted a story in the best tradition of crime noir.  Sadly, he died before the novel’s publication and his wife Rosalba Jeffreys completed the manuscript.

Robert Jeffreys worked as an actor, teacher and playwright.  Some of his plays have featured on the ABC Radio National and one received an AWGIE award.  His first novel Man at the Window was published in 2018.

The Final Cut

[2021]

by Robert Jeffreys

Echo Publishing

ISBN 978 1 76068 583 6

$29.99; 356pp

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