- Publish Date
- Friday, 2 February 2018, 11:47AM
- By Stephanie Jones
Oliver Randall is a banker with a side gig as a procurer of cocaine and sexual services for clients. He eventually goes down for these misdeeds, and six years later, out on parole, he is assassinated in his home. The accused is Tina Leonard, a wealthy property developer who, it is alleged, was double-crossed by Randall on behalf of his bank, and lost her company as a result. Peter Tanner is the incorruptible lawyer hired by Tina to save her from a life sentence.
The intricacies of the plot and myriad connected subplots of Richard Beasley’s The Burden of Lies cannot escape the most inattentive reader, for the author reiterates the details at least a half dozen times in the 420-page span of the novel. The real skill of the great crime novelist – Tana French and Michael Connelly are front-of-mind examples – is in crafting a tale that is retold from innumerable angles, giving the reader a fresh understanding each time and asking them to reconsider and accept or reject what they were told before.
Beasley gets halfway there, and buttresses the modest flaws in the structure with a superb recurring protagonist of the old school: John Rebus would have plenty of time for Peter Tanner, a master of courtcraft who is confident without arrogance, a character judge with the insight of a clairvoyant, and a loving father who frets about his motherless teenage son.
Beasley strives for plausibility and finds it in the underbelly of high-finance in Sydney, where property magnates bribe councillors to get projects off the ground and morally flexible ex-cops are seconded to the private sector to apply their hard skills to raising the bottom line by erasing obstacles to the company’s hyper-profitable progress. For good measure, there’s environmental mismanagement – a theme that could have waited for another novel and the space it deserves – and complex global banking deals that turn the mass of humanity into predestined casualties of homicidal capitalism.
The author’s blending of financial malfeasance, visceral violence (not lingered over, but thoroughly described) and wanton emotional chaos makes The Burden of Lies the stuff of prime-time network TV, and a showrunner would have much to work with in the figure of Tanner, whose courtroom manner is unimpeachable but whose professionalism is undermined somewhat by his affair with Simone Hargreaves, the ex-wife of Oliver Randall and a potential witness in the case. His courtroom opponent, the lawyer for the prosecution, is a former lover. Fortunately Tanner doesn’t have any messy personal history with the judge or with the psychotherapist he sees regularly for bracing straight talk.
A publicity sticker on the cover enthuses that if you like the aforementioned Connelly, you’ll love this! It’s true to an extent, but a recent reading of Connelly’s latest, Two Kinds of Truth, reveals that the Australian apprentice can still learn from the American master about how much plot is just right and how to walk the line between comprehension and repetition. Nevertheless, The Burden of Lies is smoothly written and pacy, and Beasley’s earnest push for authenticity pays off.
Every week Stephanie reviews the Book of the Week.
As the Coast book reviewer, Stephanie Jones shares her thoughts each week on the latest releases.
Stephanie has a BA (Hons) in history and English literature, and a background in journalism, magazine publishing, public relations and corporate and consumer communications.
Stephanie is a contributor to the New Zealand Book Council’s ‘Talking Books’ podcast series (listen here), and a member of the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award judging panel. She can be found on Twitter @ParsingThePage.
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