“I thought of the divisions, within and through my city, small ones, cracks in pavements
and in people’s minds, that were familiar, nondescript, repeated as often as the scene in
front of me was repeated, glowing and then gone. I thought of bigger divisions, moral
and political, how Eden Carmichael had moved across them, and how that movement
might be felt in the air. Just then, Canberra seemed to be a city struggling to give itself
some kind of independent life.”
A publicly popular politician seems like somewhat of an anomaly to me, but a private sexually adventurous cross dressing politician somehow doesn’t. What kind of world are we living in? This is the story of duo-identities and direct misrepresentation. In the first case a conservative politician named Edward Carmichael is focused on establishing electronic censorship through ventures designed to produce filters for the Internet after headlining a long-standing platform promoting anti-censorship. Working with the legislative assembly, an executive order is placed to protect the youth from easily accessible filth while surfing the web. But Edward also has an ulterior motive, and he needs the help of Senator Bryant to make it happen. On the other end of the identity spectrum there is a conflicted person that is bound by her progressive nature in her sexual freedom and desires that goes by the alias of Eden Carmichael. When Eden abruptly dies of an apparent heart attack at her most frequented brothel named after the owner Margot, security consultant business owner and pseudo private investigator Sandra Mahoney is hired to find out the truth behind the censorship legislation and ends up being drawn in to the mystery surrounding that fateful January day. Typically she works in partnership with her “live in boyfriend” Ivan Semyonov, but while he is in Russia taking care of extended family matters, Sandra must take sole responsibility of Canberra’s fastest growing problem with help from her network of colleagues. Sandra doesn’t have the “look” of a professional investigator, to most she wouldn’t be regarded as a woman merely dressed for success and not much else. Lucky for her she dresses according to a psychological mindset that will best enable her to manipulate her persons of interest and get what she wants. Public perception aside, appearances can be deceiving and in the end how far would you go to protect your persona?
A politician, a floral shop owner, a movie producer and a madam walk into a bar…
“My first impression had been that Denise copied Margot in her style of dress, but now
I wasn’t sure. I sensed that both had learnt to treat free talk as suspect, synonymous
with waste. Say only as much as a client may be entitled to insist on, and no more.
Dignity coexisted with a studied reticence. Words failed, or were inadequate, for so
much. In a brothel, I suspected, they became a measure of the margins.
You can see the effort the author put forth in accruing the knowledge needed to best represent her story with credibility. I was hoping the author would delve a little more into the security concerns surrounding the Internet and not solely fixate on the untimely deaths of the character. Making it more technology based would have made it more complex than a straight up murder mystery. There were also quite a few loose ends and I would have appreciated more digging and closure. Another problem I had with this novel was that I really felt lost at points and definitely felt the effects of not reading the two prior books in the series. Something I have a big issue with serial novels. The biggest problem I had with this novel was that I couldn’t figure out in full, was, who exactly is Sandra Mahoney? And what made her tick? Sandra felt blurry to me and would have liked to have a better understanding of who she really was.
The blurb on the back of the book mentioned “V.I. Warshawski, Canberra style”, and I saw many similarities between the troubled love life and even the apologies enlisted to the neglected dog for the lack of outdoor entertainment. I was lucky to receive Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky as an advanced reading copy and that book blew me away with the depths that the author traveled to form the story. Eden was certainly enthralling, but it didn’t achieve the same response from me. I truly believe over time Dorothy Johnston will be well on her way to amazing work with Sandra Mahoney, and after reading reviews of her prior novels, it seems she has made great progress. Keep up the good work.
“The end of life in Jenny Bishop’s room smelt soft, rotting, sweet. There were a million
ways for life to leave a body, a million small ways every second, so common as not to
be remarked on, as unworthy of comment as masturbating in a handkerchief.”