Caleb is quixotic, obstinate, resilient, tough and too honest for his own good.
Book cover image: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic. Image via Echo Publishing.
This second novel by Emma Viskic is a page-turning crime thriller set in Victoria, Australia with much of the action taking place in a small, hot, dusty country town during bushfire season.
Readers of Viskic’s first novel, Resurrection Bay, will meet some old friends and acquaintances, not least the central character, Caleb Zelic, but there is no need to have read Resurrection Bay to enjoy this adventure. With And Fire Came Down you get more than action – you get the ups and downs of a number of personal relationships while being sensitively presented.
Caleb is quixotic, obstinate, resilient, tough and too honest for his own good. In his quest to find the killer of a person who died in his arms he overcomes numerous obstacles including some of his own making while at the same time he tries to restore his relationship with his family.
Caleb is the kind of man who, ‘Sometimes … found it difficult to feel enthusiastic about his life skills.’ An accurate self-assessment Caleb makes after gatecrashing the house of a medicated, grieving mother. Caleb is also almost totally deaf, a disability which adds a layer of difficulty to almost everything he does.
It is well documented that Viskic learned Auslan in order to portray her protagonist more accurately. Regardless of where her plot leads, be it drug-running, police work, aboriginal family relationships or medical conditions, her research lends authenticity to her work.
Another strength of this novel is that it is written in the third person but solely from Caleb’s point of view. The reader knows what Caleb knows, neither more nor less. Caleb spends much of his time in a country town where Indigenous Australians are disadvantaged and small-town racists dominate the local pub. The local police are what you might expect. All this the reader sees through Caleb’s eyes, lending depth to his characterisation and credibility to the world he inhabits.
Thrillers do not always leave much room for humour, but it is welcome when it comes. Caleb has ordered a coffee in less than congenial surroundings:
The man scowled at the takeaway cup sitting on the flyspecked counter. ‘You want hot water with that? It’s strong.’
‘God, no. It’d be sacrilege.’
He got a sudden gap-toothed smile for that. ‘New machine. Never used to touch the stuff, but the girlfriend put me onto it. They take it pretty seriously where she’s from.’
The cover of this book labels it ‘A Caleb Zelic Thriller’. There is an understandable marketing incentive to build on the success of Resurrection Bay and its hero. One of the great crime writers, Ian Rankin, has published 19 Rebus books and a twentieth is expected (although it took five books before a book featuring Rebus became a bestseller). Zelic and Rebus have little in common, except their obstinacy, and hopefully their bestseller status. For it would not be surprising if readers of And Fire Came Down soon start looking for the next Caleb Zelic adventure.
4 stars out of 5
And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic
Format: Trade paperback
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level