Home > 2010, 21st Century, Australian Literature, Beach and Public Transports Books, Cavanaugh Tony, Crime Fiction, Polar > QDP Days #1 : Kingdom of the Strong by Tony Cavanaugh – Visit Melbourne and its police department

QDP Days #1 : Kingdom of the Strong by Tony Cavanaugh – Visit Melbourne and its police department

Kingdom of the Strong by Tony Cavanaugh (2015) French title: L’affaire Isobel Vine Translated by Fabrice Pointeau.

This is Day 1 of Marina’s and my Quais du Polar. Our beloved festival has been cancelled and we decided to post a billet about a book by an author invited to the festival. Marina’s first review is here. As far as I know, we have three other participants: Lizzy, Andrew and Guy. And maybe Max. I remind you that Pat, at South of Paris Books, read and reviewed the books short-listed for the Quais du Polar prize. The winner will be announced online today.

The festival has organised some online activities, go check them here. Here’s the program for April 3rd, the one for April 4th, and the one for April 5th. Now, let’s go back to Kingdom of the Strong by Tony Cavanaugh, who was invited to Quais du Polar in 2019, the year he signed my copy of his book. It seems a fitting book to illustrate Quais du Polar, Cavanaugh even mentions Lyon and its famous Edmond Locard, who was a pioneer of CSI. (more of that in an upcoming billet)

Kingdom of the Strong is an excellent cold-case crime fiction set in Melbourne. It won the Prix du Meilleur Polar awarded by readers of the publisher Points in France.

Burned out, Darian Richards resigned from the Melbourne police force four years ago and settled in an isolated cabin in Queensland. To Australian standards, it sounds like leaving the heart of civilisation to live as a recluse in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, only with warmer weather. Poor Darian tries his hand at fishing but doesn’t have the skills of a Jim Harrison character.

So when his former boss and mentor, Copeland Walsh comes to take him out of retirement to work on twenty-five-year-old cold case, the death of Isobel Vine, he has mixed feelings. In appearances, Darian has no wish to jump back into action, in Melbourne or anywhere else but he cannot refuse anything to Walsh, a sort of father figure to him. And, burned out or not, he misses the job.

Copeland was offering more than a job. I’d been trying to fight it but having a hard time. I was remembering the buzz and the thrill of an incoming murder announcement. We lived for murder. It was exciting. In Victoria we’d have about a hundred a year, but we always wanted more. Give me two hundred, three hundred, give me a city of killings. The swirl of the eighth floor, the crews working Homicide, the buzz and the thrill, the oxygen that gets us moving. Eventually, over time, I was poisoned and burned out, unable to break free of the victims and their wraith-like murmurs of anguish fingering out like tentacles, reaching into my increasingly vodka-soaked mind as I kept searching for the very few killers, most notably The Train Rider, who slipped the net, stayed in the shadows, killing again and again or maybe retiring after one or two successful shots at it, leaving behind the plaintive sounds of the victims, calling for justice. Or calling out for me, at least, the guy who wanted to be perfect, Mr Hundred-Per-Cent, that’s how it seemed. I couldn’t deny, not after seeing the boss and hearing the war stories, that old feeling of camaraderie within the ranks of the crews of the eighth. The idea of going back to HQ, to solve a twenty-five-year-old killing, was giving me flutters of excitement.

Against his better judgement, he goes back to Melbourne, and demands his former partners Maria and Isosceles as a team. They start investigating Isobel’s death.

Isobel was in high school and involved with her English teacher, Brian Dunn. She had spent a year in Bolivia as an exchange student and upon Brian’s request had brought a “present from a friend”, drugs. The customs caught her at the Melbourne airport and the police was after her to get the names of her contacts.

Isobel was found dead, hung up with a man tie at her bedroom door, naked. The police concluded it was suicide, a sexual game with a deadly outcome. The night she died, there was a party at her flat and four young cops were among the guests. One of them, Nick Racine is now a serious contender for the position of Police Commissioner in Melbourne. The Premier of Victoria wants to make sure they endorse someone with a clean past.

Darian is in charge of re-opening the Isobel Vine investigation with the purpose to prove once for all, that Nick Racine has nothing to do with her death and that his nomination as Police Commissioner is possible.

They start digging and poking around everyone’s past. They meet with Isobel’s boyfriend, her teacher and the guests of that last fateful party. They stir up bad memories, things that people would rather leave buried now that they have moved on. They do their best to piece together Isobel’s life and see what happened to her.

Tony Cavanaugh is a screenwriter and his novel benefits from it. It’s very cinematographic, it’s fast paced, with a lot of twists and turns. Sometimes, I thought that one or two plot devices were a bit farfetched and now I wish I could ask Tony Cavanaugh if he invented them or if he read about it in newspapers as sometimes reality surpasses fiction.

The narration alternates between the past and the present, letting the reader peek into Isobel’s life. Cavanaugh uses an omniscient narrator for all the characters except Darian. He speaks at the first person. The cast of characters was well drawn and Darian and Maria make a great pair.

He’s like a lone wolf PI, responding to his own moral code and said moral code is not always in line with legality. He’s a man scarred by his years in the police force, to the point that every street in Melbourne reminds him of a case. It spoils his pleasure of strolling in the city. He only sees the ghost of investigations past. You see that both the French and English covers show a lonely PI with a gun and the Melbourne skyline. I prefer the English cover.

Maria is a spitfire and her boyfriend used to be a big shot in the Melbourne crime community. It’s at odds with her job and she’s always afraid that his former life is not completely over and that his criminal endeavours put stains on her career in the police force. She and Darian make a great team. Helped by Isosceles’s uncanny ability to unearth information about people, they dive into this investigation head on and don’t hesitate to ruffle feathers in the process.

Cavanaugh take us in Melbourne’s back-alleys, in the corridors of the police force where well-established cops feel that they now are on a hot seat. Will they get out of it unscathed? Will they manage to find out what happened to Isobel, twenty-five years ago?

Read the book and find out. It’s an entertaining read, one that will virtually take you out of lockdown. It will take your mind off epidemic thoughts and wash away the virus of anxiety that eats at us, despite our best efforts. Recommended.

A little word about French stuff in this book. I love noting them down.

I mentioned Edmond Locard earlier but several other odd references to French things pop in Cavanaugh’s novel and it was unexpected.

Maria listens to Les Négresses Vertes.

There’s a funny explanation of Voilà! I paraphrase since I have the book in French translation: Cavanaugh says it seems to mean anything from take this to the cat is dead. Well observed, I’d say.

And then when the characters go to a -stuffy- French restaurant in Melbourne, the French waiter is named Jean-Paul. What is it with Australian writers and the name Jean-Paul? Is there an Australian reader out there who can spot the French textbook with a character named Jean-Paul? There must be one. I have no intention to write a book, but I promise that if I ever change my mind, I won’t name the British characters and their dog, Brian, Jenny and Cheeky.

  1. April 3, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    I was thinking as i read your review that it sounded as if it would make a good filmed adaptation, so it’s interesting that he is a screenwriter. I don’t read much modern crime but this does sound a really satisfying read.


    • April 4, 2020 at 8:40 am

      It would make a great film with Joaquin Phoenix as Darian.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. April 3, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    Wow, Darian sounds like an addict! Finding murder “exciting”, feeling “the buzz and the thrill” (twice), always wanting more, and even getting flutters. That’s quite an interesting character to follow.

    I always find it fascinating when they use very different titles for translations—I’d love to know the thought process involved in deciding that a certain title works better in a certain language.

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed this one, Emma! And, once again, bravo for not letting the virus stop you celebrating Quai du Polar!


    • April 4, 2020 at 8:52 am

      He does sound like an addict. Adrenaline junkie, I suppose. Or maybe the intellectual excitement to have a new mystery to solve along with the sense of being the victims’ advocate and a chance for their family and friends to know the truth and mourn.
      It must be heady sometimes.

      I wonder why they use different titles too. Even Gallmeister does it and they’re keen on sticking to proper translations.

      Most of the time, I look at the English title and the literal translation sounds weird in French. It’s not even a question of being catchy for marketing reasons. It just doesn’t make sense for a reader.

      Here, the literal translation would be “Le royaume du fort”. And you have an issue because “fort” as an adjective is “strong” but as a noun, it means “fort”. So, if I read “Le royaume du fort” out of context (which is the case for a book title), I imagine it’s a war book, set either in the Middle Ages with fortified castles (especially with the word kingdom in it) or during a WWI battle.

      That said, I think that L’affaire Isobel Vine is trite.

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 4, 2020 at 7:35 pm

        It’s fascinating to hear about the problems with the literal translation. I can see exactly why that wouldn’t work, but yeah, I think they could have done better than L’affaire Isobel Vine 🙂


        • April 4, 2020 at 9:36 pm

          I’ve just finished The Wrong Case by James Crumley and the French title is Fausse piste, which means “wrong lead”.

          It’s close but not accurate and not exactly fitting.

          The literal translation would be “La mauvaise affaire” but it also means “The bad deal”

          There’s no easy solution.


  3. April 4, 2020 at 12:52 am

    Thanks for this review, Emma, he’s not a writer I’m familiar with. Interesting that it’s set in Melbourne. I’ve kind of gone off crime that uses dead women as plot devices, but I might make an exception to this one if my library has it in stock. (My local library is closed but they are doing drop-offs twice a week; you ring them with the titles you’d like and they put them aside for delivery on a Monday or Wednesday.)


    • April 4, 2020 at 8:56 am

      I don’t know if you’ll like it but I did. I haven’t read much Australian crime fiction, only Jane Harper and him, I think. He’s a better writer than her, I have to say.

      Great service from your library! Here, everything is closed, even independant online bookstores. I’m reading from the TBR (which is good) and keeping all my book allowance for when independant bookshops will reopen. I plan on spending money there, they’ll need a jumpstart from their readers. Meanwhile, I refrain from buying books. Most effective book buying ban ever.


  4. April 4, 2020 at 11:22 am

    I enjoy reading books set in Melbourne, my original home town. Both the covers are photos across the Bay to the city from Williamstown, does that relate to the story. The premise is pretty gross, a girl involved with her teacher, then tricked into smuggling. I hope the teacher comes out of it as badly as the girl (Yes I know, I’ll have to read it).


    • April 4, 2020 at 11:43 am

      Yes, the premise is gross as often in crime fiction.
      And yes, you’ll have to read it if you want to know how things pan out for the teacher!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. April 5, 2020 at 10:21 pm

    Sound like my sort of read. When picking for the virtual Q du P, I only checked out the authors for this year (man are not translated), so thanks for this.


    • April 5, 2020 at 10:27 pm

      Definitely one you’d enjoy.


  6. Maria
    April 6, 2020 at 6:11 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the Bouhier — I was a bit surprised I hadn’t found other mystery writers exploiting the CSI connection. And, like other cities, Lyon has plenty of real historical intrigue to build on. Thanks for offering a little virtual QDP!


    • April 6, 2020 at 8:53 pm

      It was fun to read a book set in Lyon and I learnt a lot of fascinating things about the city and its history.

      I’m glad I did a little something for QdP this year. I hope it will still be there next year!
      I wonder how all these cultural associations and companies will survive such a crisis.


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