Black River by Matthew Spencer
Black River is the best kind of police procedural novel - one where you don’t know who to trust, you’re constantly second-guessing what you think you know about the crime and its suspects, and you genuinely can’t catch your breath while the story unfolds.
One of my favourite tropes of the modern police procedural is the journalist as investigator role. Black River twists this trope by making our journalist protagonist not just a witness on the sidelines, but an active participant in the investigation and also a suspect.
Matthew Spencer crafts characters deviously - we never know who we can trust, or how deep their own murky waters run.
The other hero of the book, Detective Sergeant Rose Riley, was more straightforward in her goals and motivations, but I enjoyed seeing her inner conflict around trusting her gut or following the logical pattern of the crime.
The crime itself is quite harrowing - a serial killer stalking and murdering young women using the river as a vantage point, striking in alignment with the phases of the moon. However, what really intrigued me, was the exploration of whether or not this latest kill was the work of the actual Blue Moon Killer, or of a copycat or someone else trying to use the Blue Moon Killer as a scapegoat. As I said, the novel keeps you guessing because of the many layers to the crime.
I loved the setting - an elite boarding school along the banks of the Parramatta River. It is so great to read a story set in Sydney, and to understand the geography and the references. It added a sense of familiarity for me as a local reader - something that is not always possible when reading foreign authors. On the flip side, as a local reader I also had context to the prestige and scandals associated with certain private schools in Sydney, but some of these nuances might be lost on non-Australian readers.
Ultimately, Black River is a thrilling debut from Matthew Spencer and I would recommend it for anyone who is a fan of detective fiction or police procedural television shows with all the letters, like CSI or NCIS.
Title: Black River
Author: Matthew Spencer
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication date: 31 May 2022
RRP: $32.99 AUD