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AWW 2013: Marion Halligan's Murder On The Apricot Coast

Murder On The Apricot Coast by Marion Halligan

When I first found this book, I was thrilled. Crime fiction is the genre I love diving into and it always thrills me to find a potentially interesting, intriguing new crime fiction author I haven’t found before.

And then I realised it was the sequel, not the first offering in the series. So I searched the shop in vain for another Halligan but there was none to be found. I didn’t want to miss something by reading them out of order.

Eventually I walked out of the shop with Murder On The Apricot Coast in my hands. And I started reading. There is the promised murder of course but there also is mention of drugs, of prostitution, of seedy doings, and various underhand things all tied up with journalism and the massive promotion of a book that is an expose of everything.

And then there is Cassandra Travers, the narrator and protagonist, who is a freelance editor who seems to do reasonably well and who has just married the Colonel – presumably making her Mrs Marriott – though she isn’t used to it so she never notices if people call her that. The Colonel is not your run of the mill Colonel – for starters he seems quite handsome, his first name is some old fashioned name conveniently shortened to Al, he has a hush-hush job that the reader is not even told about but is left to guess, and he does odd things in the name of work. Really odd things. Like this:

The scarlet was a suit, finely tailored, with a straight skirt, pencil slim and below the knew, its jacket neatly fitted into the waist, with a flared peplum. Black stockings, pointed shoes with kitten heels, a flat clutch purse under one arm. The person did a kind of double take and turned back from the door before it was properly fastened. I could have been wondering what this strange woman was doing, letting herself into my apartment but I had an idea. Though I was as usual stunned at what an elegant and graceful figure my husband made.

– From Murder On The Apricot Coast by Marion Halligan

Yes, the Colonel cross-dresses in the line of duty. And between him trying to solve the mystery for duty’s sake and Cassandra trying to solve it simply because she doesn’t want a friend caught in the crossfire or she really doesn’t want to edit the very boring book on asparagus that she has been sent, you are sent smack into the middle of theories and suspicions that make your head spin.

Despite trying to keep up with all the theories, this is an easy read though some editor either at Allen & Unwin or the author herself has done away with all the quotation marks. I didn’t know that was a thing – it certainly isn’t the case in other Allen & Unwin published work. It doesn’t detract from the story or make it confusing but it stands out as an odd stylistic choice to make. It makes me wonder if this is to push home the point that Cassandra is an editor by profession – if because she is the narrator and this is her voice, that this is her stylistic choice not the author’s – that this is how she would write and edit and tell her story, dreaming half the time about her husband and half the time about apricots.  Occasionally, she rants.

I drove out to Calgary, musing on ignorant editors. Usually young women, who think jobs in publishing are the glamorous life. It’s not so much that they don’t know things, as that they are so aggressive about it. They find it personally offensive that someone should mention something of which they have no knowledge. A kind of solipsism; if they don’t know it, it doesn’t exist. Jonah and the whale is one of the great narratives of our civilisation; I’d expect to walk down the street and ask people at random and find them all knowing it: it’s even a song. And a further thing, these kids are children of the internet, why don’t they just google things, instead of rudely demanding clarification of authors?

– From Murder On The Apricot Coast by Marion Halligan

Did I see the solution coming? No, I did not. The plot is an intricate one and though I connected some dots and made some links that turned out to be correct, trying to figure out where everyone fit in and why all these crazy things happened at once and who was responsible for each was rather difficult. It brought home the idea that one person, any one person, is connected to several hundred and means a different thing to every single one of them, has a different reason for being part of that person’s life and has a different link to them. So murder of just one person can be a messy thing with the victim in the middle and all the links radiating outwards like a spider’s web while you try to find the loose thread that you can pull to unravel everything and find out what exactly is going on.

And Marion Halligan can weave and spin complicated webs with words quite well.

Author: Marion Halligan
Genre: Crime fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (The Alien & The Onion)
Publication Date: 2008

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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