“Those Who Perish” by Emma Viskic is another strong Caleb Zelic crime novel. Continuing readers will love this, and it should, if there’s any justice, attract many new fans.
Caleb Zelic is, as often before, oscillating between depression, elation, fear and hope. The personal betrayals that he suffered in the previous novel (“Darkness for Light”) continue to reverberate; it’s a kind of grief that he hasn’t fully worked through. At the same time, his sometimes-estranged wife Kat is far advanced in pregnancy; after multiple previous losses, his hope and excitement are not so much tinged with fear as shot through with terror.
Previous events have also triggered a relapse in his brother Anton, a long term drug addict. Unable to locate him for months, when Caleb receives a message that Anton is in danger, he comes at a literal run. Despite Anton’s resistance, Caleb is intent on helping.
He soon finds that the isolated island where Anton is living is fraught with suspicion, secrets, and simmering resentments. Things don’t improve when a sniper starts terrorising the population, apparently trying to derail Caleb’s investigation.
The crime plot here is well worked out; truly tangled and hard to see coming. It nevertheless unravels in a completely believable fashion. Viskic’s style is laconic and hard-boiled. It’s remarkably easy to read, especially given the depths of emotion this novel carries.
One of the unique things about this series is that Caleb is deaf. Viskic writes with great sensitivity about the experiences of deaf people. She illuminates many experiences which are common to deaf people: trying to guess what’s been said; people who wilfully misunderstand his limits; people who deliberately try to “test” him or make it difficult for him. These are woven into the story in a matter of fact way. It’s just what Caleb has to deal with.
It’s also part of what makes Caleb distinctive. Viskic’s understanding of the day to day challenges and advantages (being able to take your hearing device off and enjoy the silence!) of deafness contribute to Caleb being a fully rounded character that most readers will empathise with.
This is a strong crime novel, given extra depth through Viskic’s sensitive understanding of a range of social issues: Caleb’s disability, Anton’s addiction, and the racism that the Indigenous community routinely encounter. It’s distinctively Australian, without needing overt signals; it just arises from the people and setting.
The last third of the novel was extremely hard to put down. Events were moving quickly, the tension was extremely high, and I still hadn’t worked out who was after Caleb or why. If the novel has a flaw, it lies here; I was so engaged with the action that I had to consciously slow down and go back to re-read a little to fully grasp the details of the plot. Few readers will be much bothered by that, however.
This is an outstanding crime novel. It’s also a smart and sensitive depiction of a lot of emotive issues. Crime readers will love it, but a wider readership interested in character-based stories should also appreciate it.
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Those Who Perish by Emma Viskic. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I love sharing that joy.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, across all genres. There’s not much I won’t at least try. I’ve been an enthusiastic book reviewer for years. I particularly enjoy discovering writers new to me, and sharing good writing with others.
My career has included time spent writing and editing technical documents, but it’s fiction that really moves me. I’ve reviewed for a number of different outlets over the years, and have been a judge in literary competitions.
I’m now raising little bookworms of my own, which brings a whole new kind of joy to sharing books.
More of my reviews can be found on my review blog www.otherdreamsotherlives.home.blog .