Electric Blue by Paul F. Verhoeven
Sometimes it’s pretty easy to categorise a crime book. I’ll say ‘procedural’, or ‘psychological thriller’, and while every book is original, you’ll have an idea of what to expect. Then you get a book like Electric Blue, and the genre it slides into – true crime – doesn’t seem like enough to explain it. A follow-up to Verhoeven’s first true crime book, Loose Units, this is a continuation of the years of Paul’s dad John’s life in and around the police force.
While John always had aspirations of being a detective – plain-clothes, gun holster, suede shoes – he didn’t have the temperament for it. Instead, he moved into Scientific, something like forensics, which still had the plain-clothes and the gun and the suede shoes, but you didn’t have to be quite so amoral to join. And thus begins a series of gruesome, heartbreaking, eye-opening tales, as John learns the ropes of how to read the story a dead body’s telling. And, in hearing these stories, Paul learns to read his father’s story – and his own. Diagnosed with ADHD, but not back when he was a kid and life was pretty miserable, Paul can’t understand the straightforward decisions John makes in every case, while John can’t understand Paul’s way of seeing every choice branching out endlessly. Essentially, the two men solve the mystery of each other while dead bodies pile up around them.
This really, really isn’t for the faint of heart. I read a lot of crime, but this still shook me – life and death can be graphic and this doesn’t hold back, and remembering that these were all real, living people (probably with some details fudged slightly for legal reasons) is pretty devastating. There are threads of corruption and looking the other way that frustrate, knowing it’s probably the same all these years later. Despite the gore, though, it’s also incredible wholesome. Paul’s family shines with love. His mother – one of the first female cops in NSW – also gets some time in the spotlight, fighting for equality against a confused and vast majority. It’s lashed with gallows humour. And the final section – well, I don’t want to give too much away, but I haven’t seen anything like it in modern crime writing. Make the choice, and give it a go.