16 June 2013

Review: MIDNIGHT PROMISE, Zane Lovitt

  • first published by Text Publishing 2012
  • ISBN 9-781921-922930
  • 283 pages
  • subtitled: a detective's story in ten cases
  • contains 'Leaving the Fountainhead', winner of the SD Harvey short story award at the 2010 Ned Kelly Awards.
Synopsis (Publisher)

John Dorn is a private investigator. Just like his father used to be. It says ‘private inquiry agent’ in John’s yellow pages ad because that’s what his old man called himself, back before his business folded, his wife left him and he drank himself to death. 

But John’s not going to end up like his father. He doesn’t have a wife, or much business. He doesn’t really drink, either. Not yet. 

In each of these ten delicious stories Zane Lovitt presents an intriguing investigation filled with humour and complex, beautifully observed characters. At their centre is John Dorn, solving not so much crimes as funny human puzzles; but the crimes, and the criminals, are forever lurking nearby, taunting him from the city’s cold underworld.

It’s his job to unravel the mystery, or right the wrong, or just do what the client has hired him to do. Somehow, though, there is a misstep at every turn, and John takes another small stumble towards his moment of personal truth. His midnight promise. Perhaps even his redemption.

My Take

Here are ten very unusual Australian short crime fiction cases with John Dorn, private investigator, at their centre. Set mainly in working class Melbourne, and in more or less chronological order, they tell John's life story from his initial acquisition of his private investigator licence through to his loss of it, and show a downward spiral of his fortunes, even though he generally solves the mystery that the case hinges on.

John gets most of his work through high profile lawyer Demetri Sfakiakopoulos, champion of the lost cause. It ranges from investigating miscarriages of justice, false accusations, to protection of minors. The plots are generally very unusual, sometimes comedic, sometimes noir, and John Dorn always has sympathy for the underdog, even to the point of putting himself in some danger. However the outcome of John's involvement in the case is not always as successful as it might be.

Take for example the first case Amnesty.  In this one Dorn needs Demetri's help rather than the other way around. Gary Blanche is on remand and he has phoned John Dorn for help. He's up on three counts of possession of a prohibited weapon. Police found guns in his house a week before after a tip-off. Gary is claiming that three guns have been left in his letter box by mistake. He is fearful of going to jail and pleads with John Dorn to help him beat the rap. Dorn realises there is not a lot he can do, but that Demetri has far more clout than he.

The construction  of the book is unusual in that it includes 'Leaving the Fountainhead', winner of the SD Harvey short story award at the 2010 Ned Kelly Awards, and two other previously published short stories. This will appeal to those of you who really like noir stories.

My rating: 4.5

See the following video comment from Sydney bookseller Jon Page

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