Monday, December 14, 2009

Who Killed Dave?

I received Linda Cockburn’s book Who Killed Dave as a review copy under the condition that I would read it and write a review for my blog within 8 weeks. The book arrived in the mail on a Friday and by the next evening I’d finished reading it. I didn’t even get the chance to enter it on my blog as “currently reading”; it went straight to my completed books list.

In an earlier book, Living the Good Life, Cockburn recorded her family’s attempt at genuine self sufficiency, trying to live for six months without spending money.
Coburn regularly contributes to the ABC’s Organic Gardening magazine in which she writes about the environmentally friendly property her family are developing in Tasmania. This is also the main topic of her blog.

It is clear she and her family are people who act on their convictions, not taking shortcuts for the sake of convenience.

The method of publishing of Who Killed Dave is an example of living out those convictions. The author writes a little about the publishing process here:

I make a point of highlighting this because I have to address this book in a way that would maintain the integrity of MY convictions.

Firstly, as a recipient of the book I am obliged to keep to the terms of the book being given, and that is to write a review for this blog.
Secondly I want to be fair to the book, its author and any potential readers.
But taking into account those two factors I can not compromise myself or my Christian beliefs.

There is no denying that Who Killed Dave is entertaining and very readable. As I’ve said previously on this blog it’s often the case that I don’t even finish the books I start, so it’s very rare that I start and finish a book in less than a day.

The Dave of the title is a very unpopular resident in the aptly named Kaos Court, and when he is found dead there is no shortage of suspects. Everyone in the street had a motive and community interest into the investigation of his death turns the crime scene into a media circus with almost constant TV coverage being broadcast.
Robyn Miller finds herself at the centre of everything. Accident prone and voted as the prime suspect by the viewing public, her relationships are in turmoil, finding herself involved with men with surnames inappropriate for long term commitment

“Our love life, well, it’s an oxymoron really. Besides, with my first name Robyn and his last name, Banks, we were doomed from the start”.

Her luck doesn’t improve when she starts to lust after Detective Mark Hood one of the policemen investigating Dave’s death.

And lust is a major factor through much of the book with all kinds of sexual experiences being thrown into the mix (real, imagined, fantasised and “psychic”) from a ménage a trois, and phone sex to an incubus-like experience.

Coarse language is also a big factor. The main character herself confessing she has: “never sworn so much in my life. For some reason I equate swearing with assertiveness. Perhaps I could start my own workshops and have circles of people sitting in yoga positions loudly mouthing as many satisfying expletives as possible”.

Those two aspects of the book, being used so frequently, would normally have stopped me from finishing it. But having agreed to reading and reviewing the book I didn’t have that option. Clearly those who have no problem with the language and that type of sexual content won’t have the same concerns.

A third issue I have with Who Killed Dave is the positive view it presents of psychic experience, while giving a more negative view of the Christian characters in the book. The Christian as raving loony has become an accepted and much overused cliché in the world of popular fiction, however in this case the Christian has not been singled out – EVERYONE in the street has their particular problems with normality.

The positive portrayal of psychic experience includes a scene in which a psychic sexually engages Robyn during a phone conversation. Although the man is not physically present, Robyn’s experience is described graphically enough to leave no doubt that she encounters physical, sexual contact. Later it is revealed that someone observed the event and saw her and a partner performing oral sex.
When she finds out who her “sexual” partner had been Robyn expresses her disgust, indicating to me a lack of informed consent. However, towards the end of the book an event that in other circumstances would be considered sexual assault is given a positive spin.

While humour is a central part of the book, I found the most effective sections were those in which Robyn found herself empathising with characters that previously had been the focus of hostility. Revelations of Dave’s life make her realise why he had been so obnoxious to everyone and she feels a little remorse for the way she had felt about him before his death. These brief scenes late in the book give a little breathing space after Robyn’s constant stream of unfortunate experiences.
Other breaks from the humour that definitely don’t give breathing space are a couple of scenes of effective horror. The first occurs when members of the neighbourhood discover the crime scene. The sight, not surprisingly, results in Robyn relieving her stomach of its contents.

Ultimately the reader wants to find out who did kill Dave. My suspicions continually changed – from the obvious to the highly unlikely, trying to outguess the author. While the resolution didn’t disappoint (all of my guesses had been wrong) I had difficulties wrapping my head around the practical aspects of his killing. When all was revealed it seemed very impractical, if not impossible that it could have been carried out in the way depicted.

Overall I was entertained by the book, but for reasons mentioned earlier, if a sequel were written it wouldn’t be something I’d add to my reading pile.

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