The start of what one selfishly hopes is a long series, THE LONG GAME, introduces readers to Detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer. She’s back at work after a traumatic incident, working with her old homicide partner Charlie, accompanied by her service dog, the gorgeous Harry, who helps her handle the flashbacks from her past, to say nothing of providing more than a few intuitive emotional clues in her current investigation.
With barely a chance to dust off the desk, Zoe and Charlie are assigned to an odd death – a local surfer, good sort of a bloke – estranged from his wife, seemingly financially well off, normal sort of a life – is found in his rental house, not far from Portsea back beach, with a kitchen knife buried deep in his chest, blood everywhere.
There’s an obvious suspect, and it all seems very neat and tidy, but something’s nagging at Zoe – nothing is supposed to be easy after all. A bit of a bell ringing moment, some digging and she finds an odd pattern, and a very similar looking man who appears, befriends, and then disappears very rapidly. It’s all so tenuous that Zoe’s colleagues aren’t convinced, but she’s prepared to back her instincts, unearthing a story that goes back many years, and if nothing else, is a timely reminder that childhood misbehaviour can really come back to bite you.
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When Rowell’s first novel – THE ECHO OF OTHERS – was released (published under the name S.D. Rowell) I distinctly remember noting:
“There’s a heap of potential here – from a good solid, cleverly structured plot; some excellent characters – including Detective Rachael Schlank who finds herself working on old cases, leading her back to her early days in Vic Police and a particular fellow officer who she worked with out of the main Bendigo police station.”
Following on with another excellent character – DS Zoe Mayer – Rowell has created a backstory of bravery and exceptional service, that has had consequences. Her service dog Harry is the outward facing view of those, but there’s a lot going on in her personal and professional life because of past events. She’s believable and easy to relate to. Her offsider, Charlie, is more affable, perhaps slightly bland by comparison, although ultimately they are both very real people with personal and professional lives, forming a good team. The angst of the personal is more vocal in Charlie, but there’s Zoe’s relationship with a lawyer that seems, on the fact of it, to be a good one, but there was also something there, a sort of spidery sense that maybe something’s NQR. Of course, this reader might also be so far off the mark, she’s not even in the same future as these characters. The rest of the squad is made up of the expected good cops, buffoons and twerps, and the sort of day to day interactions that made sense and felt very real. The police procedural elements worked, as did the idea that sometimes homicide investigations proceed based on the smallest of observations, the hints, tips and hunches that a good cop knows to follow, no matter how tenuous.
Whilst the day to day investigation is proceeding, the backstory to what happened to Zoe is explained, giving a real feeling for just how difficult policing is in these days, showing just how important Harry is in her life. He’s also important in how this story progresses, and Rowell plays fair with the reader, you might wonder if Harry’s under any threat, but at no stage are you panic struck or really, truly scared.
All in all, THE LONG GAME is a series kickoff with heaps of potential, good characters, and an interesting, complicated and tricky central plot that presents plenty of opportunity for pause for thought about childhood misbehaviour.