Book Review: Dirty Weekend by Gabrielle Lord

“Jack’s back … and the dead are talking …

There is something about the presence of a dead body, especially a murdered one, that still touches me. Despite its silence, a dead body poses an immense question.  A murdered body even more so.

An early-morning phone call shatters Jack McCain’s sleep. As Chief Forensic Scientist for the Australian Federal Police, he knows a call at that hour is never good news.

For Tianna Richardson it is ‘very’ bad news. She’s dead. But hers isn’t the only case that Jack has to deal with. Is her death linked with a casual sex-swapping group? Using all his forensic knowledge, Jack needs to find out how the ex-wife of a cop is connected with a beautiful research scientist and a frail old man … besides the fact that they were all brutally murdered.
Jack McCain is determined to link the pieces. But the killer has expertly covered their tracks and Jack has only trace evidence from a rare native orchid and a whole lot of unanswered questions about the Terminator Rabbit research project to work with. And is the cost to Jack’s personal life worth it, even if he does find the answers …”

This novel follows recovered alcoholic Jack McCain, son of an alcoholic mother, divorced father of two grown children (one of which is a recovered heroine addict) and Chief Forensic Scientist with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), along with the complexities of forensic investigation. Being a Chief Forensic Scientist, Jack should be doing a lot more laboratory and administrative work for the cases coming through the AFP, but unfortunately he just can’t say no and frequently takes on the persona of a private investigator, feeling "obligated" to the victims.

It’s therefore no surprise then that when Jack receives an early morning call from Earl Richardson, an ex-colleague, informing him that his (Earl’s) ex-wife has been murdered, Jack is all but ready, willing and able and finds himself drawn into the murder investigation. Everything snowballs from there when a second call comes in, this time from Dallas Baxter, Chief Scientist at the Agricultural Research Station requesting Jack to attend the Ag Station to assess an incident that has occurred. Of course, this doesn’t appear to be enough for Jack and a third call comes in from Brian Kruger, one of Jack’s team members, requesting Jack to do him a favour by going to see a woman in Ginnindera about a neighbor whom she hasn’t seen for a day or so. And then of course, just to add a further twist to the plot, there’s a cold case that emerges!

Jack is a man with workaholic tendencies and it becomes quite apparent that he works like this in order not to ponder the guilt, anger and difficulties he experiences in both his past and current life – guilt at not being able to help his mother and sister along with a seemingly false accusation leveled at a suspect many years before which had dire consequences and anger at his own childhood suffering. We get to hear first-hand about those feelings as they become entwined with his life with Iona who has moved from Sydney to live with him.

With detrimental consequences to his personal life, he finds himself caught up in all three murder investigations with not many clues except that they all feature traces of a rare native orchid. Finally a suspect is taken into custody, but something is not sitting well with Jack and he is further bothered by the fact that the recently reconstructed skull and facial features of the bones from the cold case bear a striking resemblance to someone he has encountered either in the past or the present – he’s not quite sure. Little does he know that the killer has been right in front of him all along and has been muddying the waters. Everything finally ties up in the final few chapters and we realise what a tightly wound plot Gabrielle Lord has created.

I like the way that Ms Lord has taken Jack’s personal life, particularly his relationship with Iona and his somewhat poignant thoughts on his life, to form a back-story to the main plot. She has created very real, believable characters touching upon social issues such as alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence. Having been brought up with an alcoholic father myself (also the son of an alcoholic mother), alcoholism is a social issue which resonates strongly with me - there were some thought-provoking moments which had me wondering whether my own father, like Jack McCain, suffered guilt-ridden periods in his life.

Admittedly the title of the novel bothered me every time I picked it up – personally, I felt it alluded to a book containing large amounts of sexual content – however, nothing could be farther from that. So, for those of you who are not keen on erotica, you can safely pick up this book knowing that there are only a few references to sex and the casual sex-swapping group mentioned in the blurb, with only one particularly daring scene in a hotel room.

This is the first book I have read by Gabrielle Lord but I am given to understand that it is the third book in the Jack McCain series.

Written in the first-person narrative from Jack's perspective, I found Dirty Weekend to be well researched and, Ms Lord an author who appears to be well-versed in matters of criminological procedures.  Not being from a scientific background at all, I was amazed at all the new words I learned.


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