Murder in the Groove

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

As stated elsewhere, the shelves in my office are reaching the point where nothing goes in unless something comes out to make room so it’s hardly surprising to find that when I needed something along the lines of light reading recently I reached for a chunky volume containing Murder in the Off-Season, with Murder in the Groove lurking quietly in the back of the same volume. When shelf space is at a premium something that’s occupying an inch and a half in the old money could provide room for a couple of slightly trimmer titles.

When you’re building a writing career, particularly in the crime sphere, it helps to be able to work around a couple of regular characters, and if you can find some that work you’d hardly be likely to throw them away.

The easiest option when creating a fictional detective is to place him or her in the police force (Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Peter Robinson’s D.I. Banks, James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux or Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano), and if you can’t manage that the next option is to make the character a private investigator (Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy) which also opens up interesting opportunities for conflict with the official law enforcement agencies, who aren’t always going to be pursuing the same agenda as the private eye.

If you’re looking for an amateur detective, there’s always going to be the question of their other occupation, a problem Warner side-steps neatly in the Murder in... series by making Andrew “The Lizard” Zirk a retired rock star with an interest in TV game shows. 

That means that the first in the series Murder in the Groove is a fairly natural starting point as Zirk investigates the demise of the Lord of Grunge Dance, one Sydney Melbourne. It also gives Warner a chance to aim the odd salvo in the direction of the music industry, and I assume that someone who’s slightly more in the know than Hughesy might notice recognisable character traits from prominent Oz-music figures among the cast of characters.

It’s more or less obligatory to give the detective an offsider or some other sort of foil to interact with. Dave Robicheaux has Clete Purcell, D.I. Banks has Annie Cabbot, Kinky Friedman has the Greenwich Village Irregulars, Rebus has Siobhan Clarke and Zirk has Fleur, his highly attractive live-in housekeeper, chauffeur and general factotum.

The will they/won’t they horizontal mambo factor also provides an area for prurient speculation. To date, they haven’t, though they still might.

The relationship, such as it is, provides an element of tension in ...Groove as Zirk dates up-and-coming singer Sarah Sahara and is left with little choice to provide temporary dhelter for Sydney Melbourne’s ex-squeeze, the waif-like Thistle who isn’t quite what she appears to be.

There’s also a nice little subplot involving Zirk’s interaction with the police investigating the affair since the officer who starts off the investigation is a guitar-playing fan of Zirk’s, and his replacement (once Foster is seriously wounded in a stake-out) the direct opposite. 

The rest of the plot line snakes around in the customary fashion with connections to Vietnamese boat people, homeless kids, thoroughbred racing and the machinations involved with the internal politics of the music industry.

In the end, of course, everything fits together and Zirk provides the solution to the case and everyone who deserves to land on their feet lands on them.

To date I haven’t sighted the middle volume in the series (Murder in the Frame) and while I won’t exactly be going out of my way to chase it down, if I sight it I’ll be giving it a read.

© Ian Hughes 2012