Portrait of Post-Traumatic Stress in an authentic police setting…and so many other things.
Penguin Books Australia
On the inside, Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly is a mess. Stitched up after being shot, her brain’s taking even longer to heal than her body. On the outside, though, she’s perfect, at least as far as the top brass are concerned. Cabramatta is riding high on the new ‘Asian crime wave’, a nightmare of heroin, home invasions, and hits of all kinds, and the cops need a way into the world of teenaged dealers and assassins.
They think Ned’s Vietnamese heritage is the right fit but nothing in Cabra can be taken at face value. Ned doesn’t speak the language and the ra choi – the lawless kids who have ‘gone out to play’ – are just running rings around her. The next blow could come from anywhere, or anyone. And beyond the headlines and hysteria, Ned is itching to make a play for the kingpin, the person behind it all with the money and the plan and the power.
Beams Falling is the brilliantly compelling and gritty second novel by the rising star of Australian crime writing. A portrait of our recent past, it’s also a compulsive and utterly authentic insight into the way both cops and criminals work
Firstly I was very impressed with the authentic voice of this police procedural and the harrowing accuracy of PTSD as it is presented in this narrative; life constantly on alert, hyper vigilant, hyper alert, anxious, breathless, paranoia…panic. I could feel this disorder blossoming in my mind and chest as I read on, the descriptions so real.
Newton has a brilliant way with words- her descriptions of settings so accurate you can smell the markets, the dirty back streets, and the decay… the incense burning. Her dialogues flow easily and comfortably, the camaraderie of the Job clearly evident.
Detective Nhu “Ned” Kelly is a wonderful female protagonist – she is complex, likable, stressed, determined and compassionate and she is good at her job – just a little messed up with “head noises” at the moment but she will work through that. I loved the inclusion of the Buddhist nun who plays a small yet important role in this narrative and that of Detective Joe “Nug” Ng. Other characters along the way are well developed, not always likeable, not always what you expect.
The narrative itself is complex- so many issues are woven in this web of deceit, crime and recovery. They are subtly painted into the picture, you do not feel you are being lectured but this novel does make you think; about war, about detention centres, about family, about gangs, drugs, abuse, ethnic violence, and home invasions to name just a few issues. After I finished reading this I could not sleep for hours – not because I was fearful but because I was thinking. Not everything is black and white, right or wrong, not everyone is either guilty or innocent; so many shades of grey. There are so many individual circumstances to be considered. I could never be a cop; I think the lines are too blurry for me.
All in all this was a great Australian narrative, full of Sydney settings – dirty and clean – you see it all. Great characters, personal dilemmas, ethical challenges and a complex plot that reaches out to you and says “look at the bigger picture whilst acknowledging the impact on the individual.” The author has used a brilliant reference for this title in a story told by Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon; it is poignant and such an accurate reflection on life (no spoilers here). A great read!
I loved the inclusion of the dog in the therapist room.
Some background on P M Newton:
P.M. Newton is a Sydney based crime writer.
The Old School, featuring Detective Nhu “Ned” Kelly, published by Penguin in 2010 is her first novel.
Short biographical details can be found at Penguin.
Random details include a 13 year career in the NSW Police, the majority of which was spent as a Detective. Over the years I worked a variety of criminal investigation roles, from being one of many in an office of suburban Ds to the lone D in country NSW, taking in attachments to a variety of specialist squads along the way. From the outside, being a D looks glamorous, up close it involves a lot more paperwork than any one imagines, and eventually, for me, it started to resemble “Groundhog Day”. I’ve often described it as a job where you are constantly meeting people for the first time on the worst day of their lives – and quite often those people see you as being the cause of it.
So, I jumped ship and decided to see if there was a happier way to live. My journeys since have seen me in Mali, West Africa, listening to and writing about the music that pours out of that stretch of the Sahel. I was lucky enough to have my words and photographs published on CD liner notes by Sterns African Music label and in a travel magazine. Then there were a few years in India, studying Buddhist philosophy and teaching English to Tibetan refugees, and some very naughty little monks. It was whilst living in India that the character of Nhu “Ned” Kelly, first made her appearance in my head then eventually into notebooks and finally into The Old School.