Darkness for Light is the third Caleb Zelic mystery following Resurrection Bay (2017), and And Fire Came Down (2018). This is a crime series I’ve really taken to, all three books are entertaining, pacy mysteries. Initially it was because of Caleb, he’s such a likeable central character, easy to like, readers will be on his side as Viskic puts him through the ringer on the way to solving cases; this time it’s a murder and a kidnapping. I’ve come to appreciate the contemporary feel of the novels. These are dark relevant stories delivered with wit, that lightens the mood and contrasts with the less savoury and more brutal moments in the stories to great effect.
Darkness for Light picks up on several threads from Caleb’s past particularly around his relationships with his ex-partner Frankie, who destroyed their business, and Kat, his ex-wife, unwittingly drawn back into the mess that is Caleb’s life after their split a few years ago. However, after a couple of rough years, things are improving for Caleb, in fact, life’s pretty good. His relationship to Kat is back on and he’s learned a lesson the hard way about avoiding dangerous cases, from now on its strictly straightforward office embezzlement jobs only. As he goes to meet his new client he’s experiencing:
‘A feeling of lightness despite the rush to get here: the end of a good day, in a good week, in a greatly improved year. Thank God.’
Of course, it won’t last, that link to Frankie is about to screw everything up all over again.
Darkness for Light begins on a bright Autumn Melbourne day, Caleb is meeting his new client at the Children’s Farm. Slightly odd but a meeting out in the sun, not down a dark alley like the old days,is welcome. Only it seems that Martin Amon is a no show, strange because his email message sounded urgent. Then Caleb sees the blood, a trail leading into one of the animal sheds, at this point he should probably run, but, of course, he doesn’t, he heads inside. There on the floor, a stocky man with fair hair:
“No face, just a bloodied pulp of flesh and bone.”
Caleb’s potential client. The local cops arrive, they put Caleb on ice and it’s hours before two detectives turn up to interview him. Caleb soon realises they’re AFP not Homicide, so why are the Feds interested in a little local murder? They start asking questions without looking at him, even when they do look his way, one guy has a beard that covers top and bottom lip which makes reading his words difficult, Caleb explains he’s deaf. The only contact he had with the client was by email which they’ve already seen; he never met the guy and he has no idea what Amon wanted to see him about so he can’t offer much help. The feds let him go with a warning not to talk about what he’s seen, it’s for his own safety and his name will be kept out of the press. Next day Caleb is sure a black sedan is following him, paranoia or healthy fear? He shakes it off, he heads to Albert’s Place to pick up a meal but there’s no power on in the restaurant, it’s not the first incident, someone is trying to bankrupt the business. Albert is also deaf and he has a distrust of ‘hearies’ so Caleb agrees to look at it for him.
Maybe Caleb intends to forget about Amon’s murder but when he steps outside Albert’s he’s attacked. He comes around to a familiar smell, jasmine perfume, it’s not a good sign, the wearer tortured Caleb the last time they met. He doesn’t even know her name until she shows Caleb her AFP badge, another Fed. Imogen Blain says she’s going to put Caleb away for twenty years for the murder of Michael Petronin if he doesn’t find his old partner, Frankie, ex-cop, junkie, embezzler, in the next forty-eight hours – clock’s ticking! Imogen says Amon was about to ask Caleb about Frankie when he was killed. As Caleb knows all about the death of Petronin, Frankie’s brother-in-law heavy, he can’t take the threat lightly. He begins looking for Frankie but much as she screwed up his life Caleb’s relationship with his AWOL ex-partner is complicated so he doesn’t want to just offer her up for sacrifice. It’s clear Imogen is acting on her own initiative and off the books, unfortunately that makes her more not less dangerous. Caleb starts with Frankie’s sister, Maggie would like to put a bullet in his head given half a chance, so getting her to trust him won’t be easy. The matter never arises, someone got to her first, put her in a coma. There’s more than one party looking for Frankie, Caleb is in real danger, a child has been kidnapped and there’s at least one murderer on the loose. Who can Caleb trust?
Caleb Zelic is a fully rounded character, he’s not defined by his deafness, although other characters make that assumption. People underestimate him, pity him, and reveal their ignorance. That’s not to say that Caleb’s disability isn’t at times inconvenient, even as added danger, it can get him into hot water, but he has a heightened awareness through his other senses. Sometimes his deafness is a cause of confusion or levity but readers are laughing with him not at him:
‘Sorry could you look at me when you speak? I’m deaf. I’m lip reading.’
She spun back to him, mouth open. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. You poor thing, how terrible.’
Shit a mourner. . .
‘You speak very well, you know. A little quietly, but just like a normal person.’
Caleb is fun to be with, although he’s not always having the best of times have himself, he definitely takes his lumps. The cast of characters is a mix of brutal thugs, strong women (who can also be thugs) and normal people caught up in nasty situations. There’s a great interaction between the characters in this satisfying mystery. Who’s hunting who and why is up on the air for most of the story, who Caleb can trust is another mine field altogether. The setting of Melbourne is really well drawn and the links to his home town of Resurrection Bay spices things up too. There’s plenty of mileage in the Caleb Zelic series if Viskic sees it that way.
I should note that Darkness for Light can be read as a stand alone novel but for the full flavour of Caleb’s complex history and how it impacts on the present; his relationships to Kat, Frankie, Melbourne and Resurrection Bay, I would recommend tackling the two earlier books first.
Here’s a link to my review of the earlier novel, And Fire Came Down, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/and-fire-came-down-by-emma-viskic/
Paul Burke 4/3*
Darkness for Light by Emma Viskic
9781782275435 Pushkin Pushkin vertigo Paperback March 2020