Yet again we have another fantastic debut female Aussie crime author invading our bookshelves! The 2020 Winner of the Banjo Prize was Dinuka McKenzie and her subsequent published novel The Torrent (Harper Collins 2022) is a compelling exploration of family dynamics and a gritty crime story that combines clever police procedural and a layered plot with emotional depth and heart.
Featuring a powerful protagonist in pregnant cop Kate Miles, in the immersive setting of northern New South Wales, this fast-paced plot sees Miles investigating the death of a local man during a devastating flood. What should be a straightforward case rings alarm bells for Miles, and despite her being only weeks away from her due date, she feels compelled to trust her intuition and dig deeper into the details. The other case nagging at her before she goes on maternity leave is a robbery at a local McDonalds, where a teenage girl is brutally assaulted. And when the two cases show signs of overlapping, and the complex intricacies of political and bureaucratic red tape constrain her investigations, Miles becomes mired in a frustratingly difficult line of inquiry at the worst possible time for herself personally.
The Torrent is a highly original story featuring a dual timeline with flashbacks to the past, around the time of the flood. McKenzie skilfully interweaves these sections with the present-day investigations. The use of taut prose, and dialogue real enough that you feel you’re in the investigation room yourself, keep the story sharp and interesting. As a very pregnant cop, Miles is a fascinating character (I kept thinking of that detective in Money Heist …) and McKenzie explores Miles’ family life with sensitivity and the practicalities of the minutia of daily life. I liked Kate Miles because she is authentic – there are no false heroics or macho game playing here; this is a woman with a family attempting to do a difficult job in trying (even exhausting) physical circumstances. Along with Miles, there is a host of other cops that I hope might make an appearance in future novels; certainly some of the other characters have the potential for highly interesting backstories. There are some curious twists and satisfying discoveries along the way, as we journey along with Miles in trying to work out ‘whodunnit’.
In a strong debut voice, McKenzie manages to traverse other issues including diversity, and the double-edged sword of unexpected fame due to tragic circumstances.
Kate Miles is determined to cling to her reputation and her position of power in the department despite being sidelined from several different angles; she is a persistent, capable, dogged and principled detective who wants to find the truth, and she must do so within the ticking timeline of the impending birth of her baby. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.