A man is murdered on a movie set in Sarah Bailey’s latest novel, Into the Night; a story so rich in setting and character that while reading it, it’s easy to imagine it playing out on screen as an epic Australian film or mini-series.
Set two and a half years after the events of Bailey’s first novel, The Dark Lake, main character Detective Gemma Woodstock has left hometown Smithson and is establishing herself as a detective in Melbourne. She’s keen to make a good impression, particularly on Chief Inspector Toby Isaacs. While investigating the homicide of a homeless man, Gemma is assigned to her most high profile case yet – the murder of actor Sterling Wade, Australia’s golden boy, who has been stabbed through the heart on the set of his latest movie, a zombie flick. Isaacs pairs her with Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet, a cavalier and bearish partner with whom she develops an uneasy relationship.
The reader is transported into Gemma’s Melbourne from the opening description of the tunnel where the first murder victim is discovered and Gemma’s reflection on how crimes in Melbourne seem much more sinister than they did in Smithson. Sarah Bailey dedicates Into the Night to the Victorian capital and it’s clear she knows the city well, imbuing it with so much personality that it becomes a character in the book. She also knows Gemma inside and out – she’s a main character who feels authentic and real as she narrates the story in first person. Still troubled following the events of The Dark Lake and the horrors she’s witnessed in her career, Gemma seeks refuge from memories of violence by engaging in a series of meaningless one night stands. She desperately misses her son, Ben, who lives in Smithson with her ex-partner, Scott, but at the same time she appears grateful to have freedom, despite being unsure what to do with it. On the outside, Gemma seems to have an impenetrable shell but her softness is evident in her empathy towards others, particularly the victims of the crimes she investigates; she considers their families and imagines what their lives were like, seeing them as much more than dead bodies that need to be solved.
Sarah Bailey is a natural writer and storyteller, cleverly weaving together three murder mysteries, each with satisfying conclusions and with a suitably dramatic confrontation for the main murder of Sterling Wade. All of the possible suspects have traditional Christie-esque motives – amongst them a grieving fiancée, a secret boyfriend, a violent film director, a beautiful and tormented starlet, and a jealous brother. I always pride myself on being able to guess the killer and I did, but there were two other separate twists that surprised me.
The Dark Lake was one of my favourite novels of 2017 and it’s hard not to compare it with Into the Night, especially considering how much Gemma has grown as a character since the first book. It was a smart decision to put Gemma into an unfamiliar setting, forcing her out of her comfort zone to see if, and how, she rises to the challenges before her.
Sarah Bailey has a firm grasp of the crime fiction genre, and Into the Night is a strong police procedural that’s slick, solid and sophisticated; but the heart of the story is Gemma Woodstock, who proves to be an excellent detective as much as Bailey is an excellent author. With any luck, both are names we will continue to hear long into the future.
Into the Night by Sarah Bailey is published by Allen & Unwin.
I smile back at him, pushing the ice in my glass with my finger so that it keeps bobbing back up. It’s like a tiny swimmer choking for air and I force it under again, holding it down for longer.