I bought a copy of Candice Fox’s debut crime novel ‘Hades’ after I saw Fox was going to be speaking at my local library: unfortunately I didn’t get to the talk but I did read the novel which won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for best debut crime. It is indeed a good debut and certainly a plot that demands attention due to its enigmatic characters and grisly murders. ‘Hades’ is the nickname of Heinrich Archer, a huge man who presides over a tip in the Western suburbs of Sydney, where criminals come to dispose of collateral damage. Interrupted by a stranger at his door one night, we meet Hades at the opening of the novel: ‘he was squat and bulky like an ox, power and rage barely contained in the painful closeness of the kitchen’. The stranger wants to offload two small children, whose presence in a bungled kidnapping has become a big problem for some inept crims: they have heard that Hades can ‘fix problems’. And so we are introduced to the back story of Detective Eden Archer, and her brother Eric Archer. The first person narration however, is done through fellow detective Frank Bennett, Eden’s new partner: this outsider point maintains Eden’s mysterious persona, and gives this crime thriller something a little bit fresh.
Eden’s story is drip fed through Frank’s observations and the flashbacks in third person describing Eden’s childhood from her adopted father Hades’ point of view:
‘Eden was a quiet and mysterious child. She kept secrets that he could find no sense in keeping – like where she had been for hours at a time, even if she was only down at the sorting centre helping to fold clothes or over at the gate watching the morning crew arrive. She sang quietly to herself. She did anything Eric asked of her, dropping whatever she was doing to follow him out into the mountain of trash. But she had agency of her own, despite her obedience to her brother. When Hades went to his shed she would be there trailing behind him, strangely frightened that she was unwelcome in his workshop. She would watch him for hours as he sketched and experimented with his sculptures’.
Hades, is in fact, a very interesting character and his home, a huge house filled with broken dolls and towering piles of books, surrounded by scrap metal sculptures made by Eden, is vividly depicted. Frank’s story is more standard detective genre fare: divorced, hiding a dodgy record, and already rubbing Eric the wrong way in the office. He’s a likeable character though: ‘I felt the desire for violence flex in me. A long breath eased through my teeth. I wanted Eden to trust me, as her partner and as a man. She was weird but I liked her. Eric was the predictable catch that came with having a dangerously beautiful and darkly mysterious woman fall right into your lap. I could handle him. He was a prick, a prick with knowledge of my past, but I’d dealt with plenty of pricks in my time.’
We learn little of the killer’s back story but to say anymore would be spoiling the plot. ‘Hades’ has a gruesome premise, and doesn’t hold back in describing fairly cold and ruthless activity. In this way, and coupling with the deliberate mysterious treatment of central characters, elements of ‘Hades’ are over the top: I’m assuming that this is intentional and the aim was to create a hyper dramatised page turner.
Fox writes with confidence and the dialogue and references to police procedures were fine. Like P M Newton’s crime novel ‘Beams Falling’ I reviewed earlier in the year, this novel is set in Sydney, and again I’m pleased to see Sydney used as the backdrop to a detective procedural. Fox’s bio says she hails from Bankstown and she uses little pockets of Sydney that don’t get glamorised very often in Australian literature, Mortdale being a fine example. It’s good to see Western Sydney getting a look in again, like in Luke Carman’s ‘An Elegant Young Man’ I also reviewed this year.
Fox’s next novel has just been released and is titled ‘Eden’ thus suggesting that we are to learn more about the damaged, tough, raven-haired detective. I’m sure Fox will find a committed following for the series.
*This review is part of the Australian Womens Writers Challenge 2014