Deboning Perth

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Rinehart Noir is emerging as a new genre of crime fiction.

Fremantle author David Whish-Wilson says the WA mining industry is attracting global attention and thrusting local novelists who write about its rapacity into the limelight.

“In a mining boom all of the human frailties, like greed, betrayal and deception are amplified,” he says.

“It essentially becomes a crime opera and is a great subject matter for authors.

“WA crime writing was recently featured in the worldwide edition of The Guardian.

“Locals authors like myself, Alan Carter and Robert Scholfield are slowly getting global recognition.”

Whish-Wilson’s new crime novel, Zero at the Bone, is set in Perth in 1979—at the birth of the mining boom.

As the price of gold skyrockets, corrupt officials, police and gangsters collude over mining leases and land.

Perth is seemingly in jubilant mood—preparing for a royal visit with street parties and ceremonies—but behind the scenes, murder and venality is rife. Ex-detective Frank Swann is hired to sift through the blood and silt.

The book is a sequel to Line of Sight, a gritty thriller based around one of Perth’s most notorious unsolved murders—the shooting of brothel owner Shirley Finn in 1975.

Whish-Wilson says Zero at the Bone was inspired by a quote from Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes—“I and my companions suffer from a disease of the heart that can be cured only with gold.”

“In 1979, organised crime in Perth was moving away from casinos and vice to drugs,” the author says. “Gangsters were making loads of money, but wanted to appear legit, so they started to invest in the gold mining sector. Throw in an old school police force, a large amount of bank robberies, and you’ve got a very tumultuous period in Perth’s history.”

Whish-Wilson’s prose is muscular and spartan, propelling the reader through pages like a baby on a catapult.

He intersperses action with some beautiful, lyrical descriptions of Perth:

The pages are dripping with local colour—”the tea-coloured Swan River”—and could only have been crafted by someone intimate with Perth’s unique hues and inflections.

“WA poet Dorothy Hewett said that Perth has an air of manufactured innocence,” he says.

“I like that idea of endless blue skies hanging over a sinister landscape.”

Whish-Wilson, who teaches creative writing at Curtin University, has been writing for more than two decades.

Zero at the Bone is his third novel and he is the envy of many aspiring novelists, having secured an international publishing deal with Penguin.

He says he is planning a third Frank Swann novel—set amongst the cocaine and shoulder pads of the 1980s.


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