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For the last few years I have lived on Phillip Island in Western Port, on Australia's south coast where the south-westerlies blow off icebergs, which I know are just over the horizon. After living in central Queensland for years I almost died of the cold when I first unpacked. I don't fish - I don't play golf - don't play with boats so life is at a steady, controlled pace.
My first attempt at fiction was when I was quite young - I still have the typewritten manuscript, I keep it only because it was so dreadful. Another phase later on was writing for a Sydney novella publisher, ghosting for popular author Carter Brown. After two or three stories they mailed down sexy cover illustrations, which were there to inspire the next story. Soon after that I got a real job with a technical magazine publisher and when they were swallowed by a Canadian conglomerate, then a stint in the PR industry and on to an industrial advertising agency.
Disillusioned, I packed up the family from Melbourne for a rural tree-change life in the North East but when I realised that running sheep on five acres wasn't a goer, I joined the regional daily newspaper to report magistrates court and local government.
Skipping over the years in central Queensland doing the same, we - me and my wife - no, my wife and I settled on Phillip Island and I got stuck into researching family life in the 1860s, so the next logical step was historic mystery fiction. The logic of that I am not really sure about but I did find that some of the characters I meet in these writings I quite like, although there are one or two who disappoint me. Only once did I meet the charming Jasmine Ching, in Charlie Che's home; she was his sister-in-law and a most successful international Chinese arms trader and when she suggested I might call on her at sundowner hour the following day, to be honest I was tempted.
As for my historic mysteries, they never seem to be planned that well and often I don't know who the guilty party is until one of the characters points it out to me. Of course Robin Cork was similarly confused when dealing with his feelings towards Ma Jones at the rooming house where he was staying, recovering from a bad spell in the Maori Wars. While there he managed to sort out the Eleventh Horse problems, learned how cattle normally react to the smell of human blood and who started the fatal sale-yard fire.
Melbourne brothel overlord Charlie Che claimed the end of the war with some American ex coach drivers who had tried to cut in on this vibrant industry was an Unexpected Corollary, even though Cork was almost an onlooker to the trail of deceased Chinese and Americans as the fighting progressed to its inevitable conclusion.
Cork was a guest at a dinner party on an island in Western Port when another was shot dead right there in the stable, which briefly put him ahead of the mainland police. Then he learned it was the second island murder, years apart, from the teasing school teacher. He re-investigated the first, could find no connecting links but soon realised memories of the first were still raw for some island inhabitants. The second soon turned out to be unpleasantly messy.
Overseas singer and entertainer Marilyn Howard arrived in Melbourne following an unpleasant sexual attack in Sydney and the theatre management hired Cork as a Bodyguard. The cost of his security arrangements at the theatre and hotel soared, Miss Howard had to suddenly transfer her program to a country centre yet Cork was still able to protect her from two violent attacks. Her dresser, a petite French girl, showed she had more fighting ability than many men.
In the mid 1860s opium was never accepted as a white man's recreational drug and so the acceptance of morphine led to all kinds of bastard behaviour between dealers and anyone supplying opium to middle class women were instantly ostracised. Husband and wife police informers were executed and yet Cork was able to show that the detective who found the safe house had nothing to do with the shootings and point the finger in the right direction.
Shanghai Lane was where three young school girls were thought to have disappeared, probably by the hand of sex maniacs while illicitly window shopping in Chinatown after school. The trail took Cork through mixed suburban schools with sloppy security, up against some pretty tough female teachers but he did meet a charmingly helpful nun. Despite his best efforts the outcome could hardly be called conclusive.
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on Oct. 17, 2012 :
Derek is a fabulous author. I have been reading his copy for 30 years.
He is always good
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on Aug. 28, 2012 :
Asolutely loved this exceptionally well writen informative story which contains factual & historically acuate info about early Melbourne life, I would recommend it to all detactive buffs.
(reviewed long after purchase)