Book review: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

Saturday, August 5, 2017 Permalink

I am one of the few book-lovers who has not read Emma Viskic’s award-winning Resurrection Bay. In fact, other than the fact its lead character was deaf, I knew little about it. I’m also not sure why I haven’t gotten around to reading it, other than constantly having a full-reading plate. But… because I knew its predecessor was so well-received I jumped at the chance to read Viskic’s second book, And Fire Came Down, without realising it was a sequel, and – in retrospect – it might have made sense to start at the beginning.

Book review: And Fire Came Down by Emma ViskicAnd Fire Came Down
by Emma Viskic
Series: Caleb Zelic #2
Published by Bonnier Publishing Australia
on August 1st 2017
Source: Bonnier Publishing
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781760402945
Pages: 336

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic is used to meeting life head-on. Now, he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed, after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. The trail leads Caleb back to his hometown, Resurrection Bay. The town is on bushfire alert, and simmering with racial tensions.

As Caleb delves deeper, he uncovers secrets that could ruin any chance of reuniting with Kat, and even threaten his life. Driven by his own demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?

I suspect I might have been more engaged with some of the peripheral characters (Caleb’s wife Kat, his former partner Frankie, helpful cop-friend Tedesco and brother Ant) if I’d read Resurrection Bay. They didn’t seem to get much of a look-in this time around and this book felt it was very much all about Caleb. (Although I liked what I saw of Ant and he was surprisingly smart and sarcastic!)

My lack of backstory meant I also didn’t fully get Caleb’s depression. I know he’d been duped by Frankie and Kat’s life put at risk in the first book and gather he killed someone (in self defence presumably) but I wondered if whatever was deeply ailing him had taken root before that. Was it related to his hearing loss and the way others had treated him, I wondered?

And while I’m on a roll I might as well say, I’m kinda intrigued about what it was that made Resurrection Bay such a popular AND critically-acclaimed novel. And I’m not meaning to second-guess readers or critics. Just interested. Usually it’s a combo of the plot, writing and characters and I’m not entirely sure Viskic nailed all three this time around.

It wasn’t that I disliked And Fire Came Down, but I think I expected something different. Something magical. Something awe-inspiring. I recall reading Sophie Laguna’s Eye of the Sheep ages after everyone else and realising I’d missed out BIG TIME by not reading it earlier. I didn’t think the same however, about Gone Girl, or Big Little Lies.

I should say that Viskic writes beautifully. There’s a familiarity in her prose and it’s almost as if we’re being offered an intimate summary of events. In my younger years I worked in social services and was required to keep case notes. As a result it’s not uncommon few of my sentences (even now) contain pronouns. There’s an informality about it and it’s only later I realise I’ve left out subjects / objects and just include a verb or two! This is something Viskic nails in this book (unlike me and my meaningless Facebook status updates!) and tempers well with longer sentences and phrasing.

Adrian McKinty does something similar and I love the way he moves time ahead in chunks with mere phrases. Having said that there were a couple of times I was a tad confused here – particularly in some scenes flashing back to Resurrection Bay… for example, one minute Caleb was doing something and the next he was face-down in the sand on the beach. I’d shake my head to try to jump-start my brain and realise we must have slipped into a memory scene as part of Caleb’s PTSD. Similarly (also possibly on the editing-front), it felt the timing was a bit off. Days and nights either lasted forever or passed in an instant and there were a few throw-away mentions of something with minimal context (the break-ins at Caleb’s Melbourne place for example).

I liked Caleb immensely and though I was missing a bit of his backstory Viskic did a great job at developing his character in this outing so we get a good picture of the scarred but feisty 31 year old. It’s interesting to note that he continues to struggle with his deafness – in terms of not wanting to ask for help and occasionally recognising that he needs to. There’s obviously (and understandably) a lot of challenges that come with his hearing impairment and, though he’s adapted his life accordingly, he needs to rely on others from time to time and it’s something with which he struggles.

I enjoyed the plot of this book, which is less of a whodunnit than a picking apart of a whole heap of connections… though wasn’t entirely invested in the outcome. It was however interesting to read about the seedy underbelly of small-town Australia – which isn’t something often on offer.

I liked that Viskic writes about the racial tension in town – though we later learn it’s about more than race. Australia’s become a very multicultural society but we’re prone to push our racism to the side or point it in the direction of newcomers or threats. In reality it’s been around a very very long time and it’s good to see Viskic acknowledge that via shopkeepers’ comments and those of ‘everyday folk’.

And Caleb’s response – pushing down his anger rather than debating people he meets or has known for years – is undoubtedly common. I know I bite my tongue more than I should and later wonder if and when I should speak up against racism or phobias and the like. I wonder if it’s a matter of choosing our battles, or just not wanting to stir the pot. I know for me it’s sometimes about prolonging the agony – if I think I’ll get nowhere it doesn’t seem worth it. (Which indeed, may be a cop-out!)

Anyhoo, back to this book, which obviously dives a little deeper and is a little grittier than your usual small-town mystery. I suspect I might have enjoyed this more IF I’d read its predecessor and IF my expectations hadn’t been quite so high so I’ll be interested to hear what others think.

I can however imagine the gritty tale and flawed characters would translate brilliantly onto the screen and think I’d enjoy the result if done well.

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic was published in Australia by (Echo) Bonnier Publishing and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.



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