‘My bedroom. Population: one. I was horizontal under the covers imitating sleep, when my mobile buzzed .’
Meet Stella Hardy, a social worker in her forties, working in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Stella works with the Western Outer-Region Migrant Support Unit (WORMS) which is short of funds, but not of clients. A familiar story. Stella was in a relationship with a married man. But now the relationship is over, and Stella is finding some solace in wine and whisky. Another familiar story.
But back to the 4 am phone call. It’s Mrs Chol, one of Stella’s clients. Her son has been murdered. Stella heads over to Mrs Chol’s housing commission flat (which she notes is bigger than hers and has better views of the city) to offer solace. While there, Stella makes a discovery which worries her.
Back home, Stella discovers that her neighbour Tania has disappeared. Tania’s disappearance is out of character, but as Stella quickly discovers, there’s a lot that she didn’t know about Tania. Others are looking for Tania as well.
As she tries to both find Tania and make sense of the Chol boy’s murder, Stella seeks the assistance of her friend Senior Constable Phuong Nguyen. From this stage on, there’s plenty of action.
I enjoyed the humour in this novel: who else would have a corrupt police minister launching a new initiative named ‘Justice Uniting Neighbourhood Knowledge with Inter-Agency Expertise’ (JUNKIE) and have a really bad guy known as ‘Mr Funsail’? And, just if Stella’s life isn’t complicated enough, her brother (fresh from gaol) comes to stay.
This is a very busy story, and while I questioned some of Stella’s choices and wondered about how various aspects tied together, I enjoyed the read. Stella Hardy is an intriguing protagonist, and I’m looking forward to reading the second book in this series.