Those Who Perish by Emma Viskic

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Those Who Perish is the fourth in the award-winning Caleb Zelic series.  Two of the earlier books [And Fire Came Down and Darkness for Light] have been favourably reviewed in these pages.  For those readers new to the books, Caleb is profoundly deaf from contracting meningitis as a five-year-old.  He is now in his mid-thirties and a private investigator of some note.  Husband of Kat, father to their unborn child and older brother to Anton, Caleb has more than enough to deal with.  But because Anton is under threat, Caleb dives headfirst into what appears at first glance to be an unravelling blackmail scam.

From the first page, the author has created a thrilling story told in short sharp sentences underpinned by a laconic sense of humour as in Recoiled as something stroked the back of his neck – a vine tendril.  Great, now even the plants were sneaking up on him [65].  It helps too that Caleb is such an engaging character – in love with Kat; anxious about becoming a father and unsure whether he is up to the task; sometimes caring, sometimes angry brother to Ant who falls in and out of drug abuse and minor criminality – and with a laid-back style of humour.  He struggles in the hearing world where many either see him as ‘deaf and dumb’ or enunciate in an overly-dramatic style which is of no help to his understanding.  Like his next-door neighbour Mrs Naylor who is ‘under the impression that he lost most of his brain along with his hearing’ [74]. Fortunately, he has Alberto’s Cafe to go to where Auslan is de rigeur and joyously ‘loud. So loud’ [89].  As Caleb says ‘No group nosier than deaf people’ [89].

Caleb is drawn into what appears to be a blackmailing scheme going wrong.  A man is found dead by rifle shot and he has links with the rehabilitation centre where Ant is currently accommodated.  The target then switches to Ant which pulls Caleb into an investigation of the shooting while staying one step ahead of the sniper and two steps ahead of the police.  The big question is – who can Caleb trust?  And the answer is, it seems, almost no one.  To offer a little light relief, Caleb is also involved in tracking down the person from the local football club – the Numbats – who is over-sharing on social media very risqué images of players and coaches – which may or may not be photoshopped.

Running alongside Caleb’s investigations is the ebb and flow of his relationship with Kat.  Only weeks from giving birth, Kat becomes increasingly fearful that Caleb’s impetuosity is placing her life and that of the baby at serious risk.  Kat at last confronts Caleb with ‘You run into things full pelt … all the passion I love you for, but how can we bring a child into this?’ [249].  The consequences of this rhetorical question are played out in the closing pages of the book.

Balancing these strands without breaking the tension is a challenging task but one Emma Viskic rises to and succeeds at.  The strands are woven seamlessly into the narrative arc and the reader feels as exhausted as Caleb as he attempts tie off the loose ends while maintaining positive relationships with Kat and Ant.  Whether he succeeds is best left to the reader to find out.

Emma Viskic has crafted a thriller with an engaging and multi-dimensional protagonist.  The tension rarely flags as Caleb works through and around the two investigations while balancing all his family commitments.

The Caleb Zelic series has won numerous prizes including a Ned Kelly Award for Resurrection Bay and five Davitt Awards for women crime writers.  Resurrection Bay was also shortlisted for the prestigious UK Gold Dagger Award.

Those Who Perish

[2022]

by Emma Viskic

Echo Publishing

ISBN 978 1 76068 677 2

$29.99; 299pp

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