Author: Caroline de Costa
Publisher/Year: Wild Dingo Press/2019
A young Asian woman lies in a pool of blood in a Cairns motel; she dies before anyone can learn her story. Detective Cass Diamond and her team are soon on the case, trying to discover if she was part of a sex-trafficking ring and, if so, who brought her to Cairns. Soon it appears that other women may be missing, their fate perhaps linked to the brutal murder of a Cairns sex worker years earlier. Meanwhile a group of Cairns schoolgirls have become involved, one of them having witnessed the discovery of the young woman in the motel. Unconnected to the detectives, the girls pursue their own investigations. As these parallel searches progress, the story moves to the tropical rainforest surrounding Cairns. The third Cass Diamond mystery, Blood Sisters explores sex trafficking and abortion, teenage emotions and adult mischief, in a story as densely branched as the rainforest itself.
Reviewer: Jacquie Byron
A ‘Sister in Crime’ tipped me off that I’d enjoy this book and she was right (thanks Moraig!). Blood Sisters has a fresh feel to it, probably because of the Cairns setting and definitely because of the light but credible touch the author, Caroline de Costa, has when creating her female characters, whether that’s the policewoman heroine, Cass Diamond, or the feisty young teens attempting to solve the crime. There’s something of an R-rated Nancy Drew to the whole thing. And I mean that as a compliment.
I found this book quite educational – about Cairns, about prostitution, abortion, autopsy, birth control and more, even about Filipino immigrants in tropical Far North Queensland. Once I looked up de Costa this made sense; she’s a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at (I believe) James Cook University School of Medicine. But this does not mean she is laborious or heavy-handed with her information. She’s just thorough and unsentimental and any detail she provides comes across as realistic and appropriate.
She is also savvy. When she needs the teenage girls to understand the finer point of a particular law de Costa cleverly makes it part of their high school studies. One character is seen reading out a passage from a text book to the others and off they go. It makes their insights believable and removes the need for any clunky omniscient narrator to explain what’s going on. Good plot device (writing hack)!
I apologise because this is going to be a quick review so I will just mention the highlights of why I liked this book:
- The author is very good at throwing her voice – one moment a teen, the next a 70-year-old woman.
- Her descriptive powers are great; I am now dying to see the “posh” residential pockets of Cairns. I had never thought of the region like this to be honest and it’s very interesting.
- She’s particularly skilled – and wryly amusing – at depicting the one million things that can be going on in a woman’s mind at once. There is a scene when Cass is reading an Anna Funder novel in the bath while also wondering if her boyfriend would let her do this if they lived together, while also thinking how nice a page-turning advice would be, while also mulling something over from work. Sound familiar?
Overall I would read another in the Cass Diamond series, especially if I was going on holidays to Cairns. That would be double the fun. Caroline de Costa’s very specific setting reminded me of books like the wonderful Florida-based novels by Carl Hiaasen – where the setting is as much a character as the people.