Caleb Zelic is a private investigator and he’s been profoundly deaf since he was a child as a result of illness so he remembers what it was like to be able to hear. He wears hearing aids but they don’t give him perfect hearing and he relies more on lip reading. It’s an imperfect science so he misses a lot. He’s fluent in sign language but hardly anyone else in his life is. It sounds like it would be a problem for a private investigator. It is. He misses a lot. But as his ex-wife points out to him, he seems determined to “pass” for someone who isn’t deaf.
The story opens with Caleb in shock and cradling the body of his dead childhood friend, Gary, who was also a police officer. He’s called the emergency services and requested an ambulance – at least, he thinks he has because he couldn’t tell if anyone was actually on the other end of the line. The paramedics come and confirm Gary is long dead from a cut throat. The police want to know why Caleb was the one who found him. Because he received a text message from Gary saying, “Scott after me. Come my house. Urgent. Don’t talk anyone.” And so begins the mystery we spend the entire book trying to solve: who is Scott and why did he want Gary dead?
The main characters are pursued almost immediately by an assortment of unknown bad guys creatively referred to as Boxer and Grey-face. Caleb is attacked in his flat and stabbed but manages to escape. Frankie, his business partner and a former cop, is attacked in her house and disappears. There’s a lot of running away and refusing medical treatment. It’s hardly surprising when Caleb slips into septic shock. He spends a few days recuperating at his ex-mother-in-law’s house in Resurrection Bay, his childhood home town, because she’s a doctor. But the bad guys find him there as well. It’s almost like they have inside knowledge.
So who is betraying him? Is it his unreliable brother, Anton, a former junkie? Is it Frankie, an alcoholic who’s recently fallen off the wagon? Is it his ex-wife, Kat, who left him after a heartbreaking miscarriage? Is it Tedesco, the lead detective assigned to investigate Gary’s murder? Or was Gary a bent cop who had it coming and got Caleb caught up in it?
Resurrection Bay is very similar to The Dry by Jane Harper. Australian man linked to law enforcement with disability/physical difference that made him an outsider in his formative years is drawn back to his home town after a childhood friend is murdered. When I realised how similar it felt to The Dry, I went back to read my review of that book and in it I’d talked about how it felt similar to The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham. It sort of points to a problem with Australian fiction, in that a lot of it feels the same. I’ve given all three of these books three stars because while they’re well written, there’s just nothing much original about them. Caleb’s ex-wife, Kat, is Aboriginal and that’s another thing Australian writers are doing a lot of these days, throwing in the token first nations secondary characters.
Resurrection Bay was Emma Viskic’s debut novel and won her three Davitt Awards (for Best Novel, Best Debut and Reader’s Choice) in 2015 as well as the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction in 2016. It was also declared iBooks Australia’s Crime Novel of 2015. There must not have been a lot of competition. Because while Caleb is an interesting concept character and the sense of his mostly soundless world is visceral, the plot is middling, the crime is uninspired, the middle men are stereotypically lightweight and the villains are grotesquely violent without any real reason to be (at least that we know of because their motivations remain unexplored).
Maybe if I’d gone into reading this book with lower expectations… no, I would still have rated it three stars. But maybe I would have been less disappointed than I am.
*First published on Goodreads 5 April 2020