A 1930s woman makes a frightening leap into the criminal underworld in Simpson's debut Australian noir thriller.
Emma Robertson is living a pampered life in Sydney, wearing mink stoles and diamond necklaces at the height of the Depression. Her husband, Paul, is a wildly successful boat builder, and together they have two kids, a dog, and a rather large house. One day, crisis ensues when, seemingly out of nowhere, the bank says that it’s about to foreclose on the house. Emma’s life begins to spiral out of control as the seedier sides of her husband’s life begin to emerge: he’s been gambling away their money at the local casino, he’s mixed up in drugs, and his plan to save the household from financial ruin involves insurance fraud. Out of necessity, Emma gets involved in successive whirlwind adventures while saving lives, restoring the household’s finances, and preventing Paul and his friends from becoming dangerously reckless. Complicating things is her risky attraction to Paul’s friend Ray, while her husband takes part in some extracurricular activities himself. Emma is no dainty housewife: she can brandish a pistol, negotiate with drug dealers, and apparently lift nearly anything, no matter how heavy. Desperate to return to a life of normalcy, she’s thrust into a battle not just against her hardheaded husband, but also the most dangerous criminals in Australia. Inspired by a real-life case, Simpson has created a completely fictional tale that gives an exciting version of how well-to-do characters deal with extraordinary events. The breathless story, which rarely takes a moment to rest, is full of layered, flawed characters that are as convincing as they are menacing. As a noir, it has all the desired elements, including shadowy settings, financial double crosses, and smoking guns, yet Simpson shows additional talent by making domestic and emotional crises as tense as shootouts with gangsters. It’s a fun novel, overall, but its characters’ exhilarating fight for survival against a Depression-era backdrop is stark and complex.
A colorful, enjoyable novel with a fearless, savvy heroine.