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Blackwattle Creek : A Charlie Berlin Mystery - Geoffrey McGeachin

Blackwattle Creek

A Charlie Berlin Mystery

eBook Published: 23rd May 2012
ISBN: 9781742535579
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From the winner of the 2011 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel comes a cracking new Charlie Berlin mystery

It's September 1957, two days before the VFL grand final, and Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin, former bomber pilot and ex-POW, finally has some time off. But there's no rest for Charlie, a decent but damaged man still troubled by his wartime experiences. A recently widowed friend asks a favour and he's dropped into something a hell of a lot bigger than he bargained for when he discovers a Melbourne funeral parlour has been burying bodies with parts missing. A Hungarian émigré hearse driver points Berlin in the right direction but it quickly becomes obvious anyone asking the wrong questions is in real danger.

With his offsider beaten and left for dead, witnesses warned off, Special Branch on his case, and people he doesn't know watching his every move, Berlin realises even his young family may be in danger.

His pursuit of the truth leads him to Blackwattle Creek, once an asylum for the criminally insane and now a foreboding home to even darker evils. And if Berlin thought government machinations during World War II were devious, those of the Cold War leave them for dead.

Richly evocative of the period , Blackwattle Creek is a rattling good tale with a dry wit and a sobering core.

About the Author

Melbourne-born Geoffrey McGeachin has spent much of his life shooting pictures for advertising, travel, theatre and feature films. His work has taken him all over the world including stints living in Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong. He is now based in Sydney, where he teaches photography and writes.

He has written several novels, the most recent of which are his Detective Charlie Berlin series. The first two Charlie Berlin novels, The Diggers Rest Hotel and Blackwattle Creek both received Australia's highest crime-writing accolade, The Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction.

One

If you have to die, Melbourne is a fair enough place to do it and September is one of the better months for a funeral. Still early spring, no hint yet of the desiccating ugliness of summer, still chilly and almost always bleak enough for a suitably sombre air to blanket the proceedings. The downside to a September funeral is if you time your dying wrong you'll never know who won the Aussie Rules grand final. And in football-mad Melbourne, that can be a fate worse than death.

The sun broke through the overcast for a brief moment, a narrow shaft of bright, winter-cool morning light beaming down through a high window in the Moonee Ponds church. The splash of light illuminated a row of medals that had been placed on top of the coffin along with an army officer's cap. It also lit up a hand-knitted, navy-blue-and-white-striped woollen scarf, which informed the few in the congregation who didn't already know that the man inside the coffin had been a fervent Geelong supporter. The grand final was just two days away and the Cats were at the very bottom of the 1957 League table. With your team the Wooden Spooners a man might as well be dead.

There were more medals on show throughout the church. A dozen or so men wore them on the left breast of their nearly identical black suits or dark overcoats, with others displaying more subtle rows of coloured ribbons. The medals clanked together as the congregation rose and sat, and rose and sat again for hymns and homilies and the eulogy. The women in the congregation were in a uniform of sorts too, hats and gloves, scarfs and handbags, heavy overcoats and heavy shoes. It was a good turnout, the minister had noted, his little red-brick church nearly full to capacity.

Pulled from the backs of wardrobes for the occasion, the funeral outfits had been dusted off, mothballs dumped out of the pockets, camphor bags set aside. A musty, vaguely chemical odour hung over the mourners, giving the flowers at the altar and the 4711 Eau de Cologne with which the women had dabbed their handkerchiefs a run for their money. Apart from the medal ribbons, the only competition the flowers had in the colour stakes was from a woman in a red overcoat sitting in the front row.

She was a looker, that was for sure. Thirtyish, but only just, and tall. Slim too, with dark, lustrous hair washing over the collar of her coat. Outside the church, before the service, that red overcoat had drawn pursed lips and tut-tutting from a number of the women. The coat was cut well and showed she had hips under it as well as a respectable chest. Several of the men managed to pull their eyes away from her chest and check out her left hand. Under the tight, elegant black-leather glove a bulge on the third finger indicated a wedding ring. The unmarried men were disappointed, as were a number who were attending the funeral with their wives.

Inside the church the woman took off her gloves. She was seated next to the widow, holding her hand. Skin to skin, warmth, a touch that says you are still alive and that somebody cares. The widow stared straight ahead, head tilted to one side. She seemed numb, distant, and had to be gently coaxed into rising for the prayers and hymns. Once up on her feet she stared blankly at the hymnal her companion held open for her.

At the end of the service the undertaker quietly marshalled the six men, all medal wearers, who would carry the coffin out to the hearse. He took the officer's cap from the top of the coffin, turned it over and placed the medals inside, with the football scarf folded neatly on top. Crossing the church to the front row of pews he bowed slightly and handed the cap to the widow. She stared up at him, confused, and then recognition slowly showed in her face. And anger. She stood up.

'It's not right, you bastard, it's not right.'

The organist had momentarily stopped playing, flipping pages to find the recessional, and in that brief period of respectful silence the widow's words echoed round the church walls, followed by shocked gasps from the congregation. The startled undertaker flinched, stepped back, hands out as if to protect himself from physical attack. He turned around, jaw clenched, and walked stiffly back to the coffin and the waiting pallbearers.

The widow slumped down onto the pew, dropping her head on the shoulder of the woman in the red overcoat. She started to cry and the woman stroked her hair. The widow leaned closer, whispering in the woman's ear, telling her the awful secret.

ISBN: 9781742535579
ISBN-10: 1742535577
Series: A Charlie Berlin Mystery
Format: ePUB
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 300
Published: 23rd May 2012
Publisher: Penguin Australia

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