Dead Men Don’t Order Flake
“Cosy crime” or “cosy mystery” is such a staple of popular entertainment that it’s easy to forget just how perverse its conventions are. The genre tends to make use of sleepy, scenic towns, kooky local characters and snooping sleuth-spinsters. There’s often an abundance of snuggly signifiers – cats, cuppas and cardigans – obscuring one incongruous fact: the plot of each episode proceeds from an act of extreme violence.
Sue Williams’ second novel, Dead Men Don’t Order Flake, fits fairly neatly into the cosy crime category with its small-town setting, blundering local cop and cast of eccentric locals. Our amateur sleuth is Cass Tuplin and she’s hard not to love. A sexually frustrated, Panadol-guzzling grandmother and takeaway shop owner in the fictional Victorian town of Rusty Bore, this is her second outing as the town’s self-appointed private investigator. She first appeared in Williams’ Murder with the Lot in 2013. This time, she’s poking her nose into the suspicious death of local journalist, Natalie Kellett, who died while investigating the activities of some local bigwigs as they attempted to put a halt to inconvenient renewable energy projects.
The book is a little overcrowded with characters and the intrigue is not especially intriguing, mainly because Williams is far more concerned with fun than plausibility (the plot relies on the possibility of characters being able to bust into dead people’s phones and fool people into giving away information over the phone by talking in funny voices). But one of the novel’s strengths is its affectionate, tongue-in-cheek treatment of its own genre and its distinctly local spin on cosy camp. The opening scene sees Cass’s ex-lover – who had been missing for 20 years and presumed dead – saunter unexpectedly back into her takeaway joint: “A blast of cold wind whirled in behind him, slapping the fly strips against the wall.”
There’s a wry, satirical element to much of Williams’ humour, targeting the absurdity of environmental politics in regional areas. A character complains that solar panels give his goats headaches, recalling the farce over orange-bellied parrots and wind turbines in Gippsland some years ago. But the novel draws its strength from the engaging voice of its narrator, Cass. In the grand tradition of cosies, she’s a woman underestimated at your peril. Though not exactly a page-turner, this is fun and often charming crime fiction, thanks to its winning super-sleuth heroine. SR
Text, 308pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 21, 2016 as "Sue Williams, Dead Men Don’t Order Flake". Subscribe here.