‘Sydney journalist Robin Adair has had a wide and colourful career at the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, the Australian Financial Review and the ABC. For many years he reflected on the lighter side of life in a humorous column for the Australian Women’s Weekly. He has been a lifelong student of early colonial history, especially police, pubs, crime and punishment. One of his ancestors was an early Sydney police superintendent; he believes another was a London judge who sent many convicts to Australia. His first novel, Death and the Running Patterer, won the inaugural Penguin’s Most Wanted competition for new Australian crime fiction and was short-listed in the Best First Fiction category of the 2010 Ned Kelly Awards. His second novel is ‘The Ghost of Waterloo.’ – blurb
‘The Running Patterer’ is an individual who in 1828 would read/gather news and then retail it to those who either could not read or simply wanted a daily news digest. Such a person would know many people of all classes and be in a good position to become aware of mysterious events and participate in their investigation. Nicodemus Dunne is something of an odd-man-out because of his background, abilities and very murky birth and who fits the role of patterer neatly. He interacts with a range of historical figures (Gov. Darling and Rev. Samuel Marsden to name a few) and some very colourful imagined figures living at all levels of Australia’s fledgling society. The result is an enjoyable read (short chapters usually with a twist in the tail – very journalistic or Dickensian) with plenty of twists and turns set against an interesting historical locale (it helps to know Sydney at least a little). Adair suffers from one problem that occurs in both books. I suspect he is an autodidact as far as much of his background material is concerned and he regularly takes excursions to explore/explain. This can be interesting or tiresome as it takes the individual reader.
Having set up his detective character, Adair has followed up with another title also featuring Dunne – ‘The Ghost of Waterloo’. There are similar and new characters involved in this mystery with a heavier bias in the direction of known history as the main thrust of the story deals with the possibility that Napoleon Buonaparte has escaped from St Helena and dirty deeds are underway in colonial Australia where there is a very fresh memory of possible French colonial interest and spying.
Again an enjoyable read for the story though possibly not as well plotted as the initial mystery but with added delight and insights for anyone with an interest in colonial history and perhaps a family tree that stretches back to the time and place depicted.