David Whish-Wilson, Old Scores. Fremantle, Western Australia: Fremantle Press 2016. RRP: $29.99, 236pp. ISBN: 9781925164107
Trouble means business in Old Scores, third in David Whish-Wilson’s series of crime novels featuring police-detective-turned-PI Frank Swann. Whish-Wilson’s fourth novel riffs on the era of high rollers, crooked cops and dodgy deals in wild west Perth of the 1980s. Featuring a strong cast of murderous bikies and corrupt detectives, greedy landlords and one of Australia’s most wanted men, Old Scores is another full-throttle romp through the mean streets of Perth from the author of Line of Sight and Zero at the Bone.
Frank Swann is tough, but even he doesn’t swim with the sharks alone. Doing his utmost to protect his long-suffering wife Marion, Swann calls on the investigative powers of his friend and researcher, Dennis Gould: ‘you could even call him a partner, but now he was on the run’ (10). In need of a regular income, Swann begins working for Heenan, the new Premier’s fixer and flunky who ‘needed a fixer for himself’ (20). Thrust straight into the spotlight as an all-purpose security and counter-intelligence man, Swann’s work inevitably exposes him to the seamy world of standover men, confidence tricks, underhand investments and murders old and new.
In navigating these treacherous waters, Swann crosses paths with his old friend Gerry Tracker, a Yamatji man and one of Swann’s oldest sparring partners. No stranger to prison or to policemen’s fists, Gerry’s son Blake has just escaped from juvenile detention at Longmore. Blake isn’t the only one on the lam. Des Foley, the Good Morning Bandit, is back in the West and with scores of his own to settle, including one with his mother’s avaricious landlord Sam Mostel. And then there’s the new Premier himself, Rob Farrell, whose problems include his increasingly erratic father, Stormie. As Heenan would have it, ‘his liver’s shot, his blood’s poisoned and his head isn’t right’ (24).
The most important character in Old Scores is arguably Perth itself, however. Many of the iconic landmarks of the city are here: the cenotaph in Kings Park atop Mt Eliza, the Old Swan Brewery down by the river, Fremantle Prison in the days before its infamous riot. Construction at the site of what would become Burswood Casino is in its infancy, but it’s already big business and everyone wants a piece of the action. ‘Every party like a business meeting, every business meeting like a party; that’s the West Australian way’ (145).
Amid this, Frank Swann stands resolute, the most stoic of crime fiction heroes. If his heart and fists have hardened over time, then it’s the city that has done the hardening. Despite everything, it’s the simple pleasures that last the longest, long after the buzz from a snort of goey or a tryst with a Northbridge prostitute begins to fade. All Frank truly wants is to ‘Walk on the beach beside Marion, the sun on his face, the wet sand beneath his feet’ (233).
In the Frank Swann series, David Whish-Wilson has done for Perth what Peter Temple did for Melbourne with Jack Irish. It might be a tough city but it’s our tough city and one we ought to take pride in, Whish-Wilson seems to be suggesting.
Guy Salvidge is a WA author and teacher. His short fiction has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing and Westerly: New Creative and his book reviews in SF Commentary. He’s currently working on his own Perth crime novel, City of Rubber Stamps.