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Don’t you just hate it when someone tries to kill you and you don’t know why?
Single father Murray Whelan thinks the life of a parent and political operative is complicated enough. His ex is staking out the moral high ground for a custody battle, and rumors of an early election are starting to fly in the upper echelons of Australia’s Labor party. When a Turk is found snap-frozen in a local meat plant, Murray cops the job to head off possible fallout for his boss, Charlene Wills, a member of Parliament and the Minister for Industry. But the meat industry smells decidedly fishy when Murray starts asking too many questions. Suddenly things are spinning fatally out of control as he finds himself the object of an elaborate intimidation plot: drugs planted under the bed, fascist funeral rites, a killer car, and bloodsucking parasites. That’s when red-hot Ayisha, the Turkish Welfare League’s answer to activism, knocks on his door.
Stiff brings back the wisecracking ace of reluctant detectives in a mystery that is fast, furious, and very, very funny.
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The Brush-Off, featuring Melbourne political fixer Murray Whelan, won Australia's Ned Kelly Prize and critical attention when it was published here, in 1998. This prequel, which first appeared Down Under in 1994, is a worthy but not sterling followup. It's 1984, and Murray is working as electorate officer (read: troubleshooter) for Charlene Wills, Australia's minister for industry. Despite his cynicism about politics, Whelan admires the 50ish Wills: "She was loyal, conscientious, devoted to her constituents, and I loved her like a mother, which was convenient as I no longer had one of my own. Her colostomy bag you couldn't notice, even if you were one of the very few who knew about it." When Angelo Agnelli, Wills's ministerial adviser (who rises to become minister for arts and Murray's boss in The Brush-Off), asks Whelan to look into the suspicious death of a Turkish meat packer, Murray stirs up a mess of corruption that threatens Wills and the Labour Party. Malone tosses in plenty of colorful detail about Melbourne's ethnic mix, and some touching scenes where Murray struggles to be a good father to his young son while his estranged wife is off tending her own, much more successful political career. The entire novel is narrated by Murray in a wry, tough voice as flavorful of Australia as kangaroo stew.