2 out of 4 stars
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We travel to Queensland in Australia for this detective story set in the late 1980s. Meet newly-minted detective Craig Morton, eager to land his first major job. Superintendent McClure himself tasks him with the capture of escaped suspect Charles Taylor. Taylor is said to have murdered fellow sheep shearer Joe Balsham over a gambling dispute at the rear parking lot of Charleville Hotel. Morton’s mandate is to apprehend Taylor and find convincing evidence of the crime.
Morton goes from Brisbane to sheep-town Charleville for his quest. He gets to know the Charleville Hotel staff, the victim’s wife and neighbor graziers (Australian sheep raisers), and a hodge-podge of other characters. During his fact-finding, Morton discovers interesting angles to the crime and identifies other people who would benefit from Joe Balsham’s demise. Is Taylor the murderer, or is he just an unfortunate fall guy?
In Postcard for a Dead Ringer, C. J. Forrest gives us an overview of the Australian wool industry and the life of sheep raisers. This is my first experience in the world of sheep raising, and I appreciate the new learnings. However, the cover made me assume there would be horses in the story; I do not recall spotting any equine therein. The author may want to try another cover as the title also makes one think of horses, the racing kind.
As it is set in Australia, the story introduces a lot of “mates” who add spice to Morton’s sleuthing. Forrest presents his characters with backgrounds that make each both unique and relatable. Each new character adds a puzzle piece that allows the reader to see the crime scene slowly taking shape. I was particularly impressed with the intriguing backstories of the victim and the villain. The history of the villain was totally unexpected, a major coup for the author.
The book is divided into 42 short chapters. The action was slow to unfold, though. The first twenty chapters dragged as the author took his time setting up the backdrop for the crime. To make up for the slow start, chapter 21 ushered in the excitement with surprising revelations which kept coming until the story culminated in a sweet ending. The reader will be thrilled by the details of a daring rescue, a side story about strange family relationships, and Mafia-like operations.
While the main plot centers on the search for the truth behind the killing of Joe Balsham, the endearing Morton also spends time searching for a romantic interest. To be sure, his quest for “the one” gave me more than a few chuckles.
I don’t regret my sojourn in Queensland, but the escapade could have been even more satisfying. The first half of the book could be livened up by pruning the dull portions. The detective also did a lot more than detecting, which may not be too lifelike. Lady readers might take offense at the sexist adjectives (e.g., “shapely,” “attractive,” “pretty,” and “delightful”) used to describe the women. It also seemed like Morton looked at most of the women he met as potential love interests; he flirted with many of them, although the flirting never graduated to anything indecent.
The most significant flaw is in the area of editing. The book has many grammatical mishaps: run-on sentences, sentence fragments, erroneous capitalization, missed prepositions, and misnamed characters. Dates should be validated, too. For instance, chapter one mentioned that the crime was committed in 1987. Subsequent references showed it happening in 1989. Another confusion was in the date of the graziers’ meeting: It was earlier advertised as an event on June 10. The actual meeting was held on September 12.
As noted earlier, I am wondering about the author’s title and cover. There may be a good reason for the curious choices which Forrest may want to share with international readers who are not familiar with the Australian wool industry.
I believe the book will entertain crime fanatics, real-life sleuths, those familiar with farm life, and those intrigued about raising sheep. For now, I give the book 2 out of 4 stars, but Forrest can easily earn more stars by addressing the flaws cited. The book is definitely not a substitute for counting sheep.
Postcard for a dead ringer
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