The Port Fairy Murders by Robert Gott: a review by John C.

Port Fairy

I have been suckered and hooked – by Robert Gott. If I had read his profile, I might have been forewarned. He already has the William Power trilogy of 1940’s detective novels to his credit and I was aware the present book was a sequel to ‘The Holiday Murders’. What I hadn’t anticipated was his skill in using linking characters and storylines across these offerings to leave me wondering on the last page ‘OK, but what is going to happen next?’ I am doomed to have to wait now for the sequel and probably will be driven check out the prequel.

Gott does an accomplished job to set his story in 1944 Melbourne and Port Fairy with plenty of known historic and site references and incorporation of the then current social mores and restrictions as well those imposed by wartime restrictions. He makes a deal of the split between Catholics and Protestants/Masons. This may be something of an oddity to younger readers but I can assure them that what I remember of the 40s and 50’s echoes his descriptions.

The antagonist is one George Sparrow (Gott has a bit of fun with names) who is evidently a carry-over from the prequel. He is a violent, crafty but not overly intelligent individual who has plenty of hatreds including homosexuals.

George Starling hated Jews, women, queers, coppers, rich people, and his father. He loved Adolf Hitler and Ptolomy Jones. Hitler was in Berlin, a long way from Victoria, and Jones was dead. He knew Jones was dead because he’d stood in the shadows and watched the coppers bring his body out of a house in Belgrave. One of those coppers was a Jew named Joe Sable, and that meant one thing, and only one thing only – Joe Sable’s days were numbered.’

Starling is a loner but has family associations in Port Fairy. Sable is a somewhat personally isolated character but come complete with a bunch of associations within his job as a detective. Starling commits a series of murders in Port Fairy and Melbourne including two gay men (an interesting insight into the gay scene of the times). Sable is part of a team investigating in Melbourne and Port Fairy along with emerging female police constable Helen Lord.

The eventual Port Fairy murders, their context and subsequent investigation is quite well detailed with good tension at the faux conclusion.

My only criticisms relate to some poor occasional text editing and the difficulty Gott seemed to have for me to keep the character ‘ducks’ in a row. There are a lot of characters without much depth and some sudden jumps in the storyline which tended to leave me looking back to remember exactly who was who.

A good weekend or holiday read. You have been warned about the prequel and sequel addiction.

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