Browsing bookstores and their online counterparts over the years, it would seem that Australians love a good crime story. Even our television shows have a proud crime genre tradition, one of the most iconic perhaps being the nineties drama, Blue Heelers. In book form, they are just as popular, whether from overseas or home-grown with Australian themes and Australian characters. Whilst television dramas have focussed on the police procedural aspect, series such as The Rowland Sinclair series by Sulari Gentill, and this week’s feature, The Cass Lehman series by Melanie Casey, have amateur detectives who are sometimes reluctant to help out in cases, but who have police contacts who assist them, or whom they assist.
These amateur detectives are often people from all walks of life who somehow become tangled up in a case. Whether they stumble across a crime in progress, or are somehow involved through a friend or family member asking them to help discreetly, an amateur detective can be reluctant or willing, or perhaps somewhere in between. Inevitably, they will find that, somewhere along the way, something goes wrong and they will find themselves in some kind of trouble linked to the case, which is usually where the detectives they have been assisting, or who have been trying to deter them from assisting, come in to help them out.
Cass Lehman is one such reluctant amateur detective. Plagued with visions about how people have died when she passes where the event occurred, and experiencing what happened, she has reconciled herself to a life of never leaving her home where she lives with her mother and grandmother. We are introduced to Cass in Hindsight, the first in the series.
In Hindsight, a murder in their home, Jewel Bay, leads Cass to volunteer to assist local detective, Ed Dyson, in an attempt to save any future victims from the killer plaguing their hometown. The threat begins to grow as someone linked to the murders finds out who Cass is. Can Ed solve the case and save Cass before it is too late?
Book two, Craven, sees Cass living in Adelaide and teaching at a university. Her gift has followed her, as have stories about recent events in book one. Living alone and targeted by a stalker, Cass is forced to contact Ed for his help after vowing not to call him again. Cass’ past has followed her from the previous book, and though she is determined not to let it invade her new life, it would seem she has no choice. Craven is just as intense and nail biting as Hindsight.
Missing, the third book just came out this year and readers re-join Cass and Ed as they attempt to create a life together. Things get complicated when Cass is yet again entangled in Ed’s case – will they come out unscathed?
At the moment, there is no word on if there is going to be another book in this series. Whether there is or not, Melanie Casey has created an Australian story that can sit within the canon of Australian literature as an example of the different approaches to the crime genre and Australian stories. Perhaps the fascination with crime stories in Australia is linked to our convict past and the bushranger stories and tradition, or the anti-authoritarian nature of Australian culture, though Cass Lehman’s adventures are not as anti-authoritarian as bushranger tales might be. Whatever the reason, the position of the crime genre in Australia seems to be well suited to books such as these and other series that populate the market.
This series is another example of what makes Australian literature its own entity, and one that speaks to an aspect of what it is to be Australian, albeit with a paranormal slant. This series begins to show how diverse Australia is – that it is not just the bush poetry of Paterson or Lawson, or the world of Seven Little Australians. This is modern Australia, or at least, a part of modern Australia.
When thinking about the world of Australian literature, it can be diverse – from the various authors who create stories to their characters and settings. Some key Australian authors do not set their stories in Australia, but they are still as important to Australian literary culture as those that do. They still tell stories worth reading and worth being told. Melanie Casey’s series is available online through the publisher Pantera Press, and other online stores that ship internationally.