Zero At The Bone (Frank Swann #2)
Penguin Books Aus
Copy courtesy of the publisher
But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone. (Snake – Emily Dickinson)
(Please note that this review will reference events from Line Of Sight and may contain general ***SPOILERS*** for that book)
Frank Swann is no longer a Superintendent in the Western Australian police. In fact he’s no longer anything in the police force, having been forced to resign after the Royal Commission into allegations of corruption. Swann’s old nemesis Detective Casey has been neatly disposed of but where one is cut down another rises and Swann is being targeted by a detective by the name of Hogan who has made it clear via the media that he considers Swann responsible for Casey’s death and that he will not forget it. He’s wrong, but that doesn’t matter.
The message could not be any clearer. Swann hasn’t been left to go quietly into a new life and sooner or later, someone will come looking for him and bang him up for something inconsequential, an incarceration he probably won’t survive. He ekes out a living as a PI to support his family – his wife, who has also gone back to work and his three daughters. Swann is hired to investigate the suicide of a world-renown geologist who was just about to strike it rich with a goldfield claim during the mining boom. Why did Max Henderson kill himself? Why are his partners in the mine crooked cops (including Hogan), bent horse trainers, bookies and local mafia bosses? The further Swann digs into this the more dirt he turns up, dirt that could not only threaten his life (again) and that of his family but also Max’s widow Jennifer, who inherited her late husband’s share in the mine.
Zero At The Bone is the second novel by David Whish-Wilson featuring Frank Swann. In the first he was a whistleblower on corruption who fought against various attempts to discredit him on the grounds of mental instability. Swann might be slightly mentally unstable, but not in the way in which they were attempting to paint him as. He’s sharp as a tack and incredibly brave bordering a little bit on idiocy. There are people that know when to walk away but Swann isn’t one of those. In fact, the more dangerous the situation is, the more he seems to excel in it.
Frank is back at home in this novel, although not for long. When he realises exactly who Max Henderson was tied up with in this mining claim, he again has to take steps to protect his family. I find the relationship between Frank and his wife Marion fascinating. They’ve been together a long time and Marion is a detective’s daughter but who also has family on the other side of the law. She’s tolerant and patient and incredible at anticipating Frank’s moves and also his needs. She never shows frustration at him when he’s been beaten half to death (again) or they have to leave their house and go and stay somewhere else for their own safety. She doesn’t do much in these books, she’s barely in the first one at all. She’s more present in this one but in a background manner, taking his messages and keeping him one step ahead of those that would like to put him six feet under for what he knows. They work together as a seamless team, despite the revelations in the first novel, Line Of Sight about their domestic situation. I find it incredible how vivid a picture the author managed to paint of their marriage and relationship through their brief interactions and Marion’s mostly-silent presence.
I don’t know much about mining – the WA boom happened before I was born and mostly what I know about it now is because of the environmental issues it raises, something that didn’t really seem to concern anyone at this time. A lot of WA was funded on the mining boom – luxurious new housing estates, high rises, apartment blocks and it seems that many people retired to a life of leisure on it too. The amount of kickbacks and bribes that must’ve been payable to get a claim through and up and operating must’ve been enormous – it was actually factored in to the budget for the claim in this book. Given these novels exist around a state of intense corruption from pretty much everyone to the top town, it might have been exaggerated slightly but it did make me think about applying it to reality and wondering just what it did take to get things pushed through. This is a novel about greed, about people who would do anything in order to finance something that would make them unbelievably filthy rich. It’s disconcerting that two of them are police officers and yet, it would be difficult to expect anything else after Line Of Sight. If anything, this book made me realise how powerful the lure of money is to some people, more money than they could ever know what to do with. For most people, that might be a daunting thing. But to some it is a drug that they become addicted to and they’ll do anything to keep sight of it.
I really developed an appreciation for Swann in the last book and I think this book only cemented my liking for him. He’s got a unique way of doing things and I love his ragtag little band of informants. He seems to collect people and has a knack for finding people who will help him find out exactly what he needs to know. He’s clever, managing to keep one step ahead of people who look like they’re trying to help him but will only sell him out at a later date. I also like the genuine Australian feel to these books – the footy clubs, the pubs, the old cars (well they’re old now, not quite sure about 1979!), everyone smoking everywhere including public sector buildings and the terrible 1970’s fashion! It makes it so easy for the reader to paint the picture in their head, see everything clearly. I’ve never been to the setting of these books but feels very much as though I have.
I hope we see more of Frank in the future, doing what he does best.
Book #222 of 2013
Zero At The Bone is book #14 for the Aussie Author Challenge.