My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My review of Peacemaker originally appeared on the Newtown Review of Books - http://newtownreviewofbooks.com.au
In the future Australia of Peacemaker we seem to be managing. There have been ructions, wars and incidents due to water shortages, asylum seekers and the other things most of us already see coming, but things are relatively stable in the vast megalopolis that extends along the eastern seaboard – Melbourne merging into Sydney merging into Brisbane – despite the loss of state governments and the welfare system. Of course there are technological advances too, but in this world created by author Marianne de Pierres, the technology has a ‘future contemporary’ feel that doesn’t intrude into her still-recognisably-Australian but somehow more cosmopolitan cityscape. It’s a city that also includes a vast walled pleasure zone, Birrimun Park, modelled on a Wild West Death Valley-type experience, which doesn’t seem out of place given our current penchant for Warner Brothers’ Movie Worlds and Disneylands.
In this park works Ranger Virgin Jackson who, despite her Christian name, is anything but naive. In fact, in a genre currently swamped by adolescent heroines like Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Divergent’s Beatrice Prior, Jackson is a welcome representation of a grown woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her flaws and her demons. She’s a very self-contained character, with only a small circle of friends she has chosen to trust; but if you found yourself in a scrape, you’d definitely want her in your corner.
This is familiar territory for de Pierres, who has established a strong line of female characters, starting with the totally badass Parrish Plessis in a trio of far-future cyberpunk novels, followed up by Baroness Mira Fedor in her space opera quartet The Sentients of Orion series and – writing in the contemporary crime genre as Marianne Delacourt – the smart-mouthed and quick-with-a-punch Tara Sharp. Jackson is another fine example of these very readable women and she really drives the narrative along.
The plot of Peacemaker starts as a straightforward murder mystery but gains in complexity quickly as it takes on supernatural overtones. Jackson witnesses a murder in the Park at closing time, however when she goes to help the victim the killer disappears and she is viciously slashed by a crow, which also vanishes. She then meets Nathan Sixkiller, an almost legendary US Marshall who has been drafted in to help with a suspected drug-smuggling operation occurring elsewhere in the Park. Jackson resents the intrusion but has to play nice and welcome him to the city. As they share dinner on that first evening she hallucinates a large wedge-tailed eagle – one that she used to see when she was a teenager and which she’d named Aquila back then and put down to an adolescent mental aberration. Seeing it now as an adult, she’s worried she’s losing it, but then Sixkiller reveals he can see it too, and admits he has a ‘disincarnate’ of his own.
I lounged, or tried to lounge, on the couch, as if relaxed. Truth is, I was jumpy as a feral cat in a cage. Seeing Sixkiller touch Aquila in the van had messed hard with my sense of reality. If only he and I were seeing the eagle, what did that mean? Or had I imagined that he was scratching the bird?
Chance interrupted my crazy thoughts by entering and planting her backside on the seat opposite. She carried a small tablet, which she prodded at with the dexterity of a lame cow.
‘I want you to tell me about last night, beginning from when you went back into the Park to get your phone. We have everything on the Park cams up until then.’
I retold my story to make out that the person who stabbed the dead guy had already disappeared when I arrived. Y’know … rather than say he turned into a bird and flew away!
‘Then why are there only two sets of footprints?’ asked Chance. ‘Yours and the dead guy’s.’
I laughed. ‘Footprints? In the desert. You are shitting me.’
‘We can tell more than you think.’
‘People come and go through that Interchange all the time.”
‘But you just happened to go back into the park without any monitoring devices?’
‘I was in a hurry to get to the airport.’
‘Aaaah, yes. Mr Sixkiller.’ Chance began tapping notes into her tablet. ‘So you claim to have never met the deceased before?’
‘Which one would you prefer to tell me about?’
Following a trail of clues, Jackson is forced to venture into the seamier side of the megalopolis, where Sixkiller’s unfamiliarity with the city brings them into violent conflict with one of the street gangs. But Jackson has contacts on the wrong side of the law and she uses them to gain an audience with one of the gang leaders, a big Islander called Papa Brise – an at once fearsome and comedic character – who swears like a trooper and identifies a feathered artefact Jackson found on one of the dead bodies currently littering her life as a ‘vodun’ or voodoo warning symbol. Which means Jackson will have to find and confront the ‘stone witch’, Kadee Matari, for help in understanding the symbol’s true meaning and origin.
For a book that has to service sci-fi, crime and supernatural tropes the story is light and fast and very enjoyable. The dialogue crackles and Jackson has a great set of one-liners and put-downs as she faces street gangs, shady ‘clairvoyants’ and downright scary voodoo priestesses in the lawless conurbations of the megalopolis, with Sixkiller at her side. There are plenty of incidents, fights and life-threatening scrapes along the way as Jackson finds that the single murder she witnessed leads her deeper into a plot involving organised crime, people-smuggling, a secret society and, possibly, the end of reality as we know it, and the book ends on a high note with some startling personal revelations for Jackson and the promise of more mystery to come in the next instalment of the Peacemaker series, Dealbreaker, due summer 2015.
Peacemaker is definitely a cut above the standard for books of this type: intelligent, witty and with a good heart. If you’re looking for a fast read that surprises and engages, then look no further.
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