A Body of Work, a contemporary crime novel set in Melbourne and Ballarat, tells the story of socialite and author Deborah Dangerfield’s murder at a Melbourne arts festival, and the subsequent police investigation which uncovers not only the murderer, but political corruption, organised crime and the damage done in dysfunctional families.
The novel introduces Detective Constable Angela Micelli, the tenacious daughter of Italian immigrants, who although outwardly confident, doubts her capacity to lead a diverse team. Her co-protagonist, the brooding Detective Senior Sergeant Brendan O’Leary, has been shaken by upheaval in his marriage, and although desperately trying to keep his children in touch with their grandparents and uncles, he is nevertheless surprised to discover that blood runs deeper than his professional distaste for their habits and values.
This is a police procedural with social twists, although there is scant in-depth detail about police methods. Rather, the novel focuses on the interactions of the people in the investigating team. Social themes explored include secret adoption as a way of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy; the personal distress that leads to substance abuse and what the consequences of that might be for families; and the inordinate power that is vested in people because of their social and political standing.
O’Leary’s taxi came to a stop outside the Malthouse, an old red-brick brewery and malting house. When it was past its use-by-date, the brewery donated it to the city as a place for Australian theatre. Corporate generosity. Micelli was waiting for him. She stood head and shoulders above the crowd milling in the forecourt.
‘You got here quick,’ she said, handing him a coffee. Her skin was the colour you’d end up with if you mixed caffè lattewith ripe olives.
He prised off the lid, licked it clean of froth. ‘Great work, Ange.’
‘Here, hold this.’ She thrust her cup at him. ‘Who tied your tie this morning?’ Deftly, she moved the knot up so it covered the top button of his grey and white striped shirt, a perfect match for his grey eyes. She patted down his lapels, retrieved her coffee. ‘That’ll do you,’ she said, and turned on her heels.
Following her into the foyer he noticed her hair was caught up with a tortoise-shell clip, the same way his wife used to wear her hair when she wanted to look business-like.
‘Victim’s on the top floor,’ directed a pimply-faced constable. ‘Protective gear’s on the bar round to the left.’
O’Leary nodded, turned into the gloom of a foyer flanked on one side by a long counter stacked with glasses, coffee machines and crockery. His eyes were drawn upwards to a row of framed posters advertising long gone performances. ‘Baal.’ Two men, wet, hairless chests exposed, one strumming a folk guitar. ‘Porn.Cake.’ The actress was about to throw a cream cake in a man’s face. ‘What do they do here exactly?’
‘All sorts I think,’ Micelli said, handing him a set of overalls.
He shrugged off his jacket and threw it on the counter over his pile of papers, hauled the disposable suit on over his pants.
‘Arts stuff. Probably not your scene.’
O’Leary lifted an eyebrow. ‘Yeah?’ The night he played Joseph in the school nativity play, the girl who was Mary wet herself. He’d watched the piddle trickle closer and closer until it swamped his bare feet. His stomach growled as he downed the remaining coffee. ‘Get onto CCTV. Security. Staff on duty last night. Come up when you’re ready,’ he said, pinging the cup into a bin.
Arriving at the doorway of the Green Room he paused, casting his eyes over leather chairs the colour of strong tea, the polished occasional tables, pink and white flower arrangements. The room smelt like a cross between an expensive florist’s and a bar on Sunday morning. Smeared wine glasses. Half a dozen or so uncorked bottles on one of the sideboards. ‘What’s a “green room”?’
‘Dunno for sure, sir,’ said the constable on the door, ‘but I heard Mr Chamberlain saying it was going to be another one of his problems today.’
Deborah was near the doorway, slumped on the floor, both legs bent at the knees as if she’d pitched headfirst from a sitting position. One black stiletto decorated with a cream velvet bow, barely worn if the sole was anything to go by, was off to one side of the body. He noted her coiffed blonde hair and expertly made-up face. Much more elegant than her pictures in the trashy mags. A black handbag trimmed with what he hoped wasn’t real zebra hide was propped against a nearby chair, maybe the same chair she’d been sitting in before she was killed. Would he have recognised her if she’d passed him by in the street? He couldn’t say. She was a long way from the plump-faced teenager he’d known in Ballarat.