Review: Dark City Blue

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
 Pan Macmillan Australia
First published: 2012
ISBN: 9781743341483
Pages: 226

From the cover:
“If there’s one thing worse than a crooked cop on your heels then it’s a whole unit of them. A fistful of people are murdered, fifteen million dollars is stolen and detective Tom Bishop is stuck in the middle. When he hits the street, every clue points in the same direction – his colleagues in a police department demoralised by cutbacks and scandals. Hunted, alone and with no place left to turn, Bishop embarks on a hellish journey down into the gutters where right and wrong quickly become twisted and problems are solved with gunfire and bloodshed. Over the next two days, Tom Bishop will be cornered. He will be beaten. He will bust into prison. He will shoot at police. He will team up with violent criminals. He will become one of them. He will break every rule in the book, chasing a lead nobody else will go near down a rabbit hole of corruption, murder and buried secrets. Will Bishop become the very monster he set out to destroy? LONGLISTED FOR BEST FIRST FICTION, 2013 NED KELLY AWARDS “Dark City Blue is a freight train of a thriller crashing through some madhouse city night while a bomb’s ticking down to zero.”

So, two days in the company of policeman Detective Tom Bishop. Not the most pleasant of experiences for him – but a fast-paced, tense, amoral, dark and gritty, ultimately thrilling roller-coaster ride for us.

The story is based in and around Bishop’s Police Station in…well, we aren’t told, as far as I can see. It’s a violent, no-name city that could be many places (just hope it isn’t near you or me). Perhaps Luke Preston deliberately doesn’t say where it IS set, so that we can think ‘this could be near me!’ If he named the city, we could easier hold it at arm’s length by telling ourselves ‘Sheesh! They’ve got it bad there, thank goodness it isn’t near me!’ But by not defining it, it COULD be near you or me. Helps the story hit home.

Tom Bishop is a cop not just on the edge – but over it and half way down the other side looking up. He is a tough as nails, old school cop on the inside. A tough as nails, shoot first and ‘Questions? The fuck are they?’ afterwards, on the outside. And he’s the good guy. Indeed, often the only way to tell the difference between him and the criminals he’s mixed up with, is the Police badge he’s carrying. And even then you’re not sure.

After a violent robbery goes down, that he’s just too late on the scene to prevent, it becomes clear that not just has 15 million Dollars gone missing, but that the perpetrators are more than likely Policeman. His colleagues. He knows them. But perhaps more worryingly; they know he knows. What to do? Join them? Try and beat them? Joining them would be the easy way out. But luckily for us, that’s not Bishop’s style.

As the story develops, friends turn to enemies and in the pursuit of the truth – and something that might resemble justice – a whole lot of moral lines get blurred almost to invisibility. Nothing matters to Bishop but stopping the corrupt Police officers. From getting to the evidence and the witnesses of course. But mostly from stopping them getting to him! His colleagues have been so corrupt, so long, that he, Bishop, seems like the one in the wrong.

Dark City Blue is a (not so) pretty, tough, no-nonsense kind of a story. About a tough, no-nonsense kind of a character. So the writing style mirrors this. Clipped, hard and effective. Never uses three words where two will have more punch.

“She looked at the crumpled bill as if it had just taken a shit on the rug. ‘You pigs are all the same.'”

What’s not to like? In the Acknowledgements – you do read Acknowledgements, don’t you? – I thought it was perhaps confirmation of this mirroring, that Luke Preston writes thanks to “Gareth Beal: My editor, who killed all the words that didn’t matter.” Every word matters here, there’s no room for passengers, word-wise. It is a style that perhaps sometimes needs getting accustomed to. But when you’ve read a few pages, you get a lot out of it. And I felt that as the novel progresses and we learn more about Bishop and his life, the story and prose became a little warmer, more nuanced. Again, just like the character of Bishop develops. Both still retaining all the original shoot-to-kill attitude of course. I find it is a style where you – or your own mind and powers of association – do almost as much work as the author does in the writing.

It is a provocative way of telling the/a story, but then it is a provocative story. Nihilistic even. Like Bishop. In many ways the book reminded me of another of my favourite authors; Mark Timlin. And that’s a (very) good thing. His ‘Nick Sharman’ stories also explore the life and hard times of a(n ex-) Policeman. One who’d not exactly seen better times, but certainly times better than the, erm… ‘problematical’ ones the stories had him set in.

Like I say, despite the tale being told like it’s got a gun to its head, I do detect a little compassion hidden under all Bishop’s scar tissue. Compassion might be a weakness in his world, but he does almost develop a conscience, of sorts. Perhaps, beneath all the grime and under all the cuts and scars, bullets and bruises, there does lurk an idealistic policeman. Is this why he chooses to keep going? Why he chooses not to take the money and the easy – less painful – way out. Even if that is the hard choice. If nothing else, Dark City Blue is about Bishop’s choices. Between doing right by your colleagues, and doing right in the ‘wrong’ way. Choosing how far to go wrong, to do the right thing. I think ultimately, the key to Bishop’s character, why he chooses to do what he does, might lie with his daughter. Them finding each other and Bishop maybe wanting to prove to her he wasn’t such a bad father-figure to have found after all.

At the end of this book there should perhaps be a sign ‘now wash your hands.’

It is an unsettling story, if reality is really like this. But compulsive because of it. And a lot of fun.

You can buy Dark City Blue from The Book Depository

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