Greg Pyer’s The Unfortunate Victim is based on a true story.
Otto Berliner Investigates… The Unfortunate Victim:
At midnight on 28 December 1864, in the Australian gold-mining town of Daylesford, young newly-wed Maggie Stuart lies dead in her own blood. Rumour and xenophobia drive speculation over the identity of her killer, and when a suspect is apprehended, police incompetence and defence counsel negligence bring yet more distortion to the wheels of justice.
In this climate of prejudice and ineptitude, it seems only Detective Otto Berliner is able to keep an objective mind and recognise that something is terribly wrong. He intends to put matters right, though all the odds are against him.
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Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
In the real world murder investigations are messy, complicated affairs involving and impacting many people; evidence can be missed or information mishandled; justice can hinge on the attitudes and (in)action of individuals in various positions of power and influence. Greg Pyers’ objective and detail-oriented writing style in the opening of The Unfortunate Victim hammers this point home.
Unusual in the fictional realm but again quite realistically, Detective Otto Berliner enters the scene much later in the piece. That Pyers’ protagonist, a well-educated and cultured individual of means reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s much loved Hercule Poirot is also a black-sheep in the eyes of the establishment, highlights just how insular society was at that time.
Otto had read about the murder of poor Maggie Stuart, and could imagine the excitement it provoked – not least among the police, who’d be running hither and tither, rounding up any number of suspects to improve the odds that they had the killer in custody. That oath Telford would be leading the charge. And now, with this fat reward on the table, no man of swarthy complexion was safe. He might even be arrested himself! Such amateurs they were. There was no system to their detecting, no science, no initiative, no imagination.
When Berliner, and another endearingly open-minded citizen come investigative assistant, get on the scent the suspense builds. Pyers’ depiction of historical inequities evokes frustration from contemporary readers but his judicious use of sarcasm and levity from farce stops that feeling from becoming overwhelming.
The Unfortunate Victim is a timely reminder of the pervasiveness of xenophobia and great introduction to a strong series lead in Detective Otto Berliner.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Crime-Detective, Mystery, Historical
This review counts towards my participation in the 2017 Aussie Author Challenge.
About the Author, Greg Pyers
Greg Pyers grew up in the small Victorian town of Daylesford. As a boy, he read the books of Gerald Durrell, and many years later, worked at Durrell’s famous Jersey Zoo. Greg became a full-time writer in 1998, following eight years as an educator in zoos. He went on to write 160 natural history books and three novels for children. For his non-fiction Greg has been short-listed in the Children’s Book Council Awards, won the Whitley Award from the Royal Zoological Society of NSW and was awarded The Wilderness Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his ‘outstanding contribution to children’s environmental literature’. The Unfortunate Victim is Greg’s second work of adult fiction.
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* My receiving a copy of The Unfortunate Victim from Scribe for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.