Darian Richards knew he should have let the phone keep ringing. But more than two decades as a cop leaves you with a certain outlook on life. No matter how much he tried to walk away, something, or someone, kept bringing him back to his gun.
One phone call. Two dead girls in a shallow water grave. And a missing cop to deal with.
Something bad is happening on the Gold Coast glitter strip. Amongst the thousands of schoolies and the usual suspects, someone is preying on beautiful young women. No one has noticed. No one knows why.
Darian looked into the eyes of those two dead girls. The last person to do that was their killer. He can t walk away. He will find out why.
Maybe it’s a hero complex. Or that you never really take the uniform off for good. Hell, maybe it’s because Darian’s saved this girl once already, so what’s one more? Either way, the phone rang and Darian answered: ‘Darian, you must come. Only you can help. There are so many bodies– ’
That one phone call from Ida, the girl Darian saved from the Sunshine Coast killer a few months ago, has now dragged him into a new murder investigation . . . it involves a trip to the “hellfire inferno” Gold Coast, during schoolies week. When Darian starts looking for Ida, he finds two dead girls instead, and then a cop goes missing.
Darian Richards retired from the police force, but when this new case drags him back into the fold he finds more to worry about than just the missing Ida . . . whatever this girl has gotten herself into, it involves disappearing University students, sex slavery and international kidnapping.
With the (reluctant) help of Noosa cop, Maria, computer genius Isosceles and a notorious con called Blonde Richard; Darian is going to get himself mired in yet another grisly case, once again proving that while he may be done with the police force, the force ain’t done with him.
‘Dead Girl Sing’ is the second book in Australian author, Tony Cavanaugh’s crime-thriller series, ‘Darian Richards.’
I loved Cavanaugh’s debut, ‘Promise’, and I’m thrilled that he has bought Darian Richards out for a second dance (with a third definitely on the horizon). I don’t get invested in many crime series; Karin Slaughter being my only other devout read. I tend to lose interest in crime series very quickly (which is why I don’t watch many crime series TV shows either). What I found though, that keeps me coming back, is terribly damaged characters. I don’t know what it is, but if there’s an underdog, grey-scale dubious anti-hero who I constantly flip between loving and loathing; then I’m there. I’m invested. I care. And there’s nobody more grey-scale than Darian Richards – an ex Melbourne detective who was rumoured to have a bad-guy kill-rate, but was also known to put crooked cops in their place (and in the ground).
This is a guy who admits to never having had a successful relationship; he pays by the hour for his companionship and that’s all he needs. He moved to Noosa to be closer to his one and only ‘friend’, an ex-brothel owner called Casey. And Darian seems to have an unlimited number of favours owed to him by any number of criminals from all over Australia. But, for all his murky ethics and questionable past, Darian is smart. He first put on the uniform at age nineteen, and even in retirement it looks as though his blood will never run anything but blue. This is especially obvious when a single phone-call from a girl he saved in ‘Promise’ has him driving, helter-skelter, down to Brisbane and the Gold Coast . . . where he reluctantly uncovers dead bodies, a missing cop, disappearing co-eds and a sex slavery ring masterminded by one of the most chilling femme fatales I've ever read.
First: the Gold Coast setting is genius. Even more so for being set during the dreaded ‘schoolies’ week: when the recent high school graduates descend on this beachside city (sometimes called ‘Bris-Vegas’, for being Australia’s own big kids playground version of Las Vegas). Schoolies is full of drugs, alcohol, parties and hormonal teenagers doing anything and everything regrettable. Every year, without fail, schoolies week news-coverage involves stories of roofie rapes and teenagers falling to their death from hotel balconies. So this is the town and time of year that Darian is working in to uncover the murder mystery. And he’s trying to work alongside (or at least, not get in the crosshairs) of Q1, the #1 Queensland police station.
Something I love about Cavanaugh’s writing is that he has the intricacies of the Australian police scene well and truly sussed out. He writes about the force/service name change, the old grizzly detectives who’ve been in the game too long and in the case of the Queensland cops; he’s nailed their RayBan-wearing, muscle-bearing, nose-flaring inflated egos;
I knew they’d be a different breed, different from the boys on the Noosa hill, back up on the Sunshine Coast. Up there it’s Japanese tourists and stoned rich kids. Little guys growing dope and drink-driving. It’s tourism crime. Down here, on the Gold Coast, it’s hardcore. It was sleepy and laid-back in 1954. Now it’s a hellfire inferno. The waves kept crashing against the beach and the corks keep popping; it is a tourist playground, after all, but there’s a rumble-fuck not far below the surface. Step back from the beach and you can feel it, hear it, see it. The cops more than meet the need. They’re known to show off their guns to teenage girls. They don’t mind a bit of jackboot.
Something I said about ‘Promise’ reveals itself in this follow-up, to be Cavanaugh’s particular crime-writing style; gore and violence. Maybe it’s obvious to point out that there’s violence in a crime novel – but having dabbled in a few now, I can safely say that some writers pull back and, compared to Cavanaugh, are downright conservative. But the ‘Darian Richards’ series goes to dark places that are sometimes very uncomfortable. And Cavanaugh only seems to write violence against women – so you can imagine the dark and vicious stories involved. And in ‘Dead Girl Sing’ we’re dealing with sex slavery; so it is harrowing. And as a woman reading this, there are times when I swallowed bile. But what makes ‘Dead Girl Sing’ even more uncomfortable is the fact that the ‘bad guy’ is actually a young woman . . . ‘Starlight’ is the name she gave herself, and she’s disgustingly ruthless. She came from the slums of Rio, slept her way to London and then fought her way to Australia. She’s young and stunning – drop dead gorgeous, in fact – but she’s taken the hard lessons she learned in the slums and has decided to never have to claw her way out of that life again. She intends to stay on top, and anyone she has to dispose and sell to stay there is just collateral damage.
In reading ‘Promise’ I wasn’t sure (but hoped) that it wouldn’t be a one-off book, but part of a series. In ‘Dead Girl Sing’, Cavanaugh leaves no doubt in the readers’ mind that Darian is a hero who could be here to stay for a good long while. We learn tiny morsels of his past, and the secondary characters who intrigued us in ‘Promise’ are back for round-two. Isosceles, the computer genius with a penchant for obscure historical factoids and no social skills, whatsoever, is again helping steer Darian’s investigation. And Maria is also returned; still harbouring resentment and guilt over what happened with the Sunshine Killer.
Maria is, really, a stand-out for me. Admittedly, her and Darian’s dubious ‘partnership’ is a bit of a cliché; he, the handsome and wiser sceptical old pro; she the model-like rookie who’s eager but green. But she has potential that Cavanaugh constantly hints at. She’s dealing with sexism and the fact that her ideals of the police service are constantly butting heads with the reality. And in ‘Dead Girl Sing’ we actually get into Maria’s head and learn that she’s not as confident as she appears;
Sometimes her lover, who she adored, spoke in the most obscure ways. This was one of those times. But she got the drift, nonetheless.
‘You don’t understand,’ she said.
‘What? Because you’re a cop and the bloke you talked to is also a cop? That clan thing? Yeah, babe, I understand that. You and this Dane Harper dude, all puttin’ on the uniform, all standin’ under the same flag, all workin’ to the same code . . . but you know it and I know it. Darian ain’t a cop, don’t wear no uniform, but baby, he is the man for good. And you know it.’
There’s a moment in ‘Dead Girl Sing’, when Darian muses on an old psychological test that the police forced used to insist on as part of application. It was the Milgram experiment – and it was designed to study the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure (even when obeying meant conflicting with their conscience). Darian actually refers to it more as a psychopath test – since the experiment involves inflicting pain on another human being, upon instruction of a ‘teacher.’ Some people find themselves incapable of hurting (and potentially killing) another human being – and would refuse to do the experiment, or at least show extreme remorse when they eventually caved and obeyed. For some, the experiment was simple. I think Cavanaugh has actually written his own version of a ‘psychopath test’ in the ending of ‘Dead Girl Sing’ . . . for some, the conclusion will be a fitting end; comeuppances served, a form of justice upheld (however twisted). For others (and I’m one of them) the end will be a perversion in itself. I think it will be a test of each reader’s personal moral compass how they react to the ending and Darian’s bitter form of justice. I’ll admit that for some, the ending will skew the rest of the book (and possibly series?) they’ll second-guess if they ever want to read Darian Richards ever again. I think that’s okay – it lends itself to why I’m conflicted in my liking of the character, and enjoyment of the series – that beautiful grey area.
For what it’s worth; I’m hooked.