Book review: Sticks and Stones by Katherine Firkin

Tuesday, May 26, 2020 Permalink

I suspect Sticks and Stones by Katherine Firkin will eventually become Detective Emmett Corban #1, but as this is Firkin’s debut novel it’ll probably be updated once the next book in the series comes along. And—in case you’re wondering—I believe there will be another book as Emmett is eminently likeable and Firkin creates an engaging support ensemble to assist in the series’ longevity.

I read Sticks and Stones before Buried by Lynda La Plante and in that review I commented on the fact that our lead detective (Jack) was kinda ungrateful for the opportunity he’d been given in the Serious Crimes Squad. I said that with Emmett in mind… as he’d been keen for a place in the Homicide or Cold Case Squad after a promotion… instead finding himself heading up the Missing Persons’ Unit which he ‘finds’ (#sorrynotsorry) less-than-exciting.

Both novels marinated in my mind a little as I moved from reading one to the other and then reviewing one then the other (in the opposite order). Both involved male detectives and prominently featured their partners in the plot… occasionally leading to some confusion in my muddled brain.

Book review: Sticks and Stones by Katherine FirkinSticks and Stones
by Katherine Firkin
Series: Detective Emmett Corban #1
Published by Penguin Random House
on 02/06/2020
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural
ISBN: 9781760893026
Pages: 400

It's winter in Melbourne and Detective Emmett Corban is starting to regret his promotion to head of the Missing Persons Unit, as the routine reports pile up on his desk.

So when Natale Gibson goes missing, he's convinced this is the big case he's been waiting for - the woman's husband and parents insist the devoted mother would never abandon her children, and her personal accounts remain untouched.

But things aren't all they seem. The close-knit Italian family is keeping secrets - none bigger than the one Natale has been hiding.

Just as the net seems to be tightening, the investigation is turned on its head. The body of a woman is found . . . then another.

What had seemed like a standard missing person's case has turned into a frightening hunt for a serial killer, and time is running out.

But to really understand these shocking crimes, Emmett and his team will need to delve back through decades of neglect - back to a squalid inner-city flat, where a young boy is left huddling over his mother's body . . .

I spent some of the book undecided whether I felt Firkin devoted too much time to Emmett’s wife Cindy. We actually meet her before we meet Emmett but I ultimately came to the conclusion that I liked the balance. Often cops’ romantic partners only appear in a novel if they’re a fellow police officer or are at risk in some way. Cindy ultimately has a link to the case, but Firkin spends some time putting us in the head of someone who feels as if she’s been upended into a life she didn’t agree to.

I very much enjoyed Emmett’s colleagues. There’s some rivalry there, but it’s not nasty and Firkin reminds us not to judge by offering some surprises. We learn Emmett was at the police academy with his boss Bryce and he’s obviously a tad resentful that his more ambitious and game-playing contemporary has done pretty well for himself. I anticipated a little more antagonism from Bryce but wondered if perhaps it’s Emmett with the chip on his shoulder as Bryce seems more supportive than Emmett realises. He was far from the unlikeable ‘guv’ you often come across in police procedurals and crime fiction.

There are some surprises for Emmett and his team when it comes to the cases on their desks. All is not as it seems and Emmett’s surprised (though probably professionally excited) when he has a murder or two on his hands.

Firkin puts us in the head of a few characters here and we don’t quite know when or how the players will ultimately intersect. There are flashbacks to a past which is obviously relevant to current events but we’re kept guessing.

A combination of a consistently cracking pace, likeable characters and a jigsaw we can’t quite solve makes this a great debut novel. Firkin has thrown in a few red herrings for good measure and there are several threads to follow. I tend to dislike completely disparate plot-lines coming together but that’s not the case here. This didn’t feel quintessentially Australian or Melbournian but I like the idea of more series’ set here and look forward to more from Emmett et al.

Sticks and Stones by Katherine Firkin will be published in Australia by Penguin (Bantam Australia) and is available from 2 June 2020.

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


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