Winter Chill

Author: Jon Cleary
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 1995
Book No: 12

I don’t know if Jon Cleary is still alive, but if he is, he’d be 95 years old. His Australian crime fiction legacy is staggering. Actually that statement probably is unfair, as not all of his books are crime thrillers. The first Cleary book that I read, would have been High Road to China when I was in high school. It was much later that I would discover Scobie Malone.

I have only read three Malone stories, however whenever I see one I don’t have in a second hand book shop, I always pick it up. The first I read was Winter Chill, which I picked up in the late 1990s (this post is more of a reminisce, than a review).

Two of Cleary’s Malone stories have been made into films. The easiest to track down is Nowhere To Run, starring Rod Taylor as Malone. You may also know the film by the title, The High Commissioner, which is also the name of the book on which the story was loosely based.

The other film is Scobie Malone, starring Jack Thompson, which is currently MIA on DVD (or Bluray). However, on a recent post over at Andrew Nette’s Pulp Curry, in the comments, a person has done us all a great favour by highlighting that the film is on Youtube under the title, Murder at the Opera House.

Here’s the Link. Thank you TH.

But, back to Winter Chill – in the mid 1990s, like now, I was very much interested in Australian genre fiction (and films), and knowing a long running series of thrillers had been written, featuring a Aussie cop, that I had not sampled, and had virtually no knowledge of, was in my mind, criminal.

As I alluded to above, I joined the series quite late. Winter Chill was the twelfth book in the series, and the fourth in what was known as the Four Seasons books – the other three being Bleak Spring, Dark Summer, and Autumn Maze.

The story begins with the president of the American Bar Association (law, rather than alcohol), Orville Brame, found dead on the Sydney monorail. Scobie Malone is woken at an un-Godly hour to investigate. Brame is in town, with another 1000 lawyers, for a conference. As you can imagine, this sets the scene for quite a complicated case. It gets even more complicated, when the security guard who found Brame, is found dead in Sydney Harbour. Coupled with the investigation, Malone’s wife Lisa, has a serious health problem, which throws his home life into turmoil.

The story is self contained, and you do not have to have read any other Malone stories to enjoy and appreciate Winter Chill. However, as it is a series, there are characters and plot threads that follow on from previous books. For example, Malone met his wife, Lisa in London, when she was working for the Australian High Commissioner, John Quentin – as featured in the book The High Commissioner (1966). Therefore if you have the time and money to track down the previous stories in the series, and read them in order, I would suggest you would gain a more satisfying reading experience. But I have not done this myself, and I had no problems – so a casual reader would have no difficulty jumping into the Malone series.

From the blurb:

Concluding the acclaimed Four Seasons tour of Sydney’s urban underside, the latest Scobie Malone investigation introduces death’s winter chill to the Detective Inspector’s own front door.

3:30am. The Sydney monorail performs its endless circuit like a pale metal caterpillar. All for the benefit of one dead passenger. Elsewhere in the city’s bleak midwinter, Darling Harbour buzzes to the sound of one thousand American lawyers attending an international conference. And that means one thousand opinions as to who killed their president.

Two bodies later, the Homicide Unit has lost one of its own. But establishing the connection is like trying to stick labels on a barrelful of eels. The more Malone fillets the heart of the city’s legal profession, the more he cuts into an intrigue of international proportions…

Cleary, like Peter Corris, should be an Australian literary institution. Every home should have at least one of his books – and if you don’t, then you should rush straight to your local bookshop and rectify the situation immediately.

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