REVIEW: Big Bad Blood

This review first appeared in The Eye online magazine in 1997


BigBloodCorruption. A loaded barrel cocked. Cops on the take. Rookies looking for openings. The Beatles and the ’60s. Hookers doing the business. “Bathtubs with out of tune blondes”. Pornography. Narcotics. Kings Cross. Mutilated hookers. Religion. A psychopathic murderer on the loose. Bloodstained carpets. Streets of vice and fetish. Graphic. Pulp. Muscular. Fast paced. Dizzying.

Dave Warner and his novel Big Bad Blood. Vertiginous streams of abstract and conscious thought. Click. Click. Click. The words spray onto the page like bullets riddling a stiff. Proclaimed Australia’s answer to James Ellroy, Dave Warner surfs through staccatos of words like a New Orleans bluesman exorcising his bourbon-ridden soul in his second novel Big Bad Blood. A playwright, musician and poet who has two films in development and whose first novel City Of Light was awarded the WA Premier’s Fiction Award, 1996, Warner is a literary Scorsese hungering for blood and the scent of the chase. Never shying from graphic verve but instead inhaling, living and breathing every globule of thick, crimson residue.

Based on well known, unsolved crimes of the ’60s, Big Bad Blood tackles life on the sordid side. Recreating the colours, degradation and life that teemed through the arteries of Sydney’s Kings Cross, it follows the story of the corrupt and tormented detective Ray Shearer who “became a cop to punish people”, the wet-behind-the-ears rookie John Gordon, local newspaper publisher, heiress and campaigner Jenny Wilson, and a plethora of crooks, bookies, deviants and denizens who soak up the scum and exfoliate the weak.

Ray Shearer, homicide detective is the muscle for King Cross businessman and shady racing identity George Shaloub. He has a secret to hide and with the discovery of the mutilated body of a prostitute finds himself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

With a psycho on the loose, and rookie cop John Gordon welcomed into the fold, Shearer is pulled deeper and deeper into an abyss of despair, corruption and revenge.The murder, seemingly a copycat of the Murchinson case years earlier that saw two 12-year-old boys “raped, cut, beaten and left for dead”, and the Latin term “Agnus Dei” carved on their buttocks, Shearer knows it’s a race against time.

Snitches, junkies and characters with ulterior motives flit through this lurid and steamy canvas. “Jefferson’s last-known; a flat in Waverley. The block, brick and ugly. Ray studying it from his driver’s window. He parked, dodged thin traffic, stepped inside its dark vestibule. Rubbish swirled. Up gritty concrete. The number 5, hanging lopsided. Elvis on the turntable sneaking out. Ray knocked, the friendly cartoon rhythm of a mate. The door opened on quiff and tatts. Instant recognition of danger, a shove to try and get the ply back. Too late. Ray’s shoulder pounding the door inwards, catching Jefferson off-balance, grabbing his wrist as he swayed, snapping a cuff shut, dropping a knee to the bodgie’s nuts, closing the other cuff around a table leg. A well-practiced manoeuvre.”

Even the most die-hard of crime fiction junkies will have difficulty working out who the psychopathic killer is, as they weave their way through a daring, muscular and twisted samba. Dave Warner is a pearl in a sea of human tragedy and guilt and long may his illicit and narcotic prose reign.

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