Book review: Without a Doubt by Fleur McDonald

Friday, March 29, 2019 Permalink

My mother saw this book sitting on the bedside table a few weeks ago, “Oh a new Fleur McDonald!” she exclaimed. Her knowledge surprised me, though I don’t know why as she reads all of the books I receive and has the same level of interest. (My brother and I had to get our love of reading from somewhere!)

“It’s a young Dave Burrows one,” I told her. And she knew what I meant… we were stepping back in time… albeit to 1999, which seems like yesterday. But… apparently isn’t.

Book review: Without a Doubt by Fleur McDonaldWithout a Doubt
by Fleur McDonald
Series: Detective Dave Burrows #2
Published by Allen & Unwin AU
on April 1st 2019
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 9781760633158
Pages: 344

In Barrabine, as Dave's workload skyrockets, Melinda, Dave's wife, is unhappy about being left alone so much to raise their eighteen-month-old daughter, Bec. It's not how Dave wants it either, but complaints, leads and crimes all have to be investigated - it's what he joined the force for.

Melinda's interfering father isn't helping. He's never thought that Dave was right for his daughter and he's not shy about telling Dave what he's doing wrong. When things come to a head at home, Dave's policing mate, Spencer, comes up with a plan.

In the most dangerous mission of his life, Dave knows what he's risking. If he's found out, he'll never see Melinda or Bec again. Of that he's sure.

In the first book in the ‘early Dave Burrows’ series, Fool’s Gold, Dave and his wife Melinda had just moved to Barrabine. Happily I didn’t need to remind myself of any backstory and it wouldn’t matter if you hadn’t read the first book in this series. I had remembered his wife Melinda was struggling to settle in and missed her family but had seemingly turned a corner by the end of that book. Fast forward to this outing though and Melinda is at home with the couple’s daughter Bec and again not coping with the isolation of life away from her family.

In many ways much of the first half of the books is as much about Dave and Melinda as it is about the two cases.

And there are two cases for some time: the disappearance of a family man from Barrabine; and then there are cattle rustlers (a group known as the Highwaymen Mustering Mob, who do some additional illegal work – ie theft of ‘cleanskins’ or unbranded cattle on the side). For a while it looks as if there may be a link.

McDonald mentions town names but I hadn’t known what was where so was initially thinking the mustering mob were near Barrabine, but we discover they’re on the other side of the country.

Long story short (and I’m offering a spoiler here, but it’s really the pivotal point of this novel) Dave ends up going undercover.

McDonald has well and truly inserted we readers into the Highwaymen gang by the time Dave joins. In fact the book opens with them and we’ve been introduced to a few members along the way (including having the plot unfold from their point of view). Not all survived the trip however, or more specifically, leader Bulldust’s (ahem) leadership style.

Things are messy for Dave at home so the undercover work comes at the perfect time. I was interested in his changing relationship with Melinda. Perhaps that’s because we’ve met him in later years (and novels) and know what’s to come.

He’s surprisingly pragmatic here… facing the cold hard fact that his marriage might not survive his desire to join the stock squad (and need to work outside the city) and Melinda’s desire to remain near her family and other supports. But of course there’s baby Bec and she’s the reason Dave is most upset about some of Melinda’s decisions.

I enjoyed the first book in this series (and later books) and this was no different. I like Dave. And I like his boss Spencer. Even McDonald’s writing reflects the respect Spencer garners from those around him and the way he handles the eventualities of the missing persons case is the perfect balance of empathy and policing (the old welfare/justice conundrum). He’s akin to an ‘elder statesman’ of sorts and a good role model for Dave who admits he would have done things differently but realises his boss was right in the end.

The only issue I had with this book is probably around its pacing. The first half is fairly slow, so it leaves little time for the second phase of the plot. The first case is eventually solved, Dave’s marriage is in tatters and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to insert Dave and / or Spencer into the other plot and have that case resolved.

McDonald leaps ahead in time a little, but the last third felt a bit rushed. I kept looking at how much of the book there was left and wondering how on earth it would get wrapped up in that time. Of course that’s a sign I was enjoying the book and didn’t want it to finish.

This 1999 series gives us a great opportunity to know Dave when he is first starting out. Though he features in the contemporary series, the books are more loosely linked with the victim or one of his colleagues often playing the central character. So given we know how things turn out for him, it makes this series (ie. the journey of how he gets there), more interesting.

Without a Doubt by Fleur McDonald will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and available from 1 April 2019.

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


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