Monday, September 17, 2012

Zane Lovitt

This review first appeared in The Christchurch Press on 15/9/12

The Midnight Promise.  Zane Lovitt. 2012.  Text Publishing.  Pp 283. $37.

Ken Strongman

The subtitle of ‘The Midnight Promise’, Zane Lovitt’s first book, is ‘A detective’s story in ten cases.’  There are indeed ten cases described for John Dorn, who styles himself as a private inquiry agent.  Mostly, the cases involve stuff-ups, either for the person in trouble, or for John Dorn or simply for life in general in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

Each case is unique and each involves one of life’s imponderables and yet they build inexorably to the final case in which John Dorn meets his midnight promise.  This final case is grittier than the others, but still revolves round some surprising puzzles.

The publisher’s blurb describes this as “The outstanding literary debut of the year”. Setting side the hyperbole that typifies such comments, this might well be the best first book to appear in Australia this year, and it is definitely interesting and unusual as an example of crime fiction, but ‘outstanding’? Almost.

John Dorn is a typical private eye, going from non-paying case to non-paying case, helping the abject and the bereft in the true Robin Hood style.  He has a seedy, run-down office, that, as his life worsens, eventually doubles as his living quarters.  He struggles to stop thinking about the woman to whom he was once engaged.  He struggles to remain un-envious of a successful layer friend who attempts to throw him crumbs of financial comfort.  Above all, he has a wryly self-deprecating view of life – the stuff of internal smiles rather than guffaws.

‘The Midnight Promise’ is, then, nicely amusing, particularly in the tortuous conversations that John Dorn has with his clients as he makes his slightly bemused way around suburban Melbourne. But its singularity comes from Dorn’s way of looking at life.  He sees merit where others do not, he sees angles that remain obscure to others.  In many ways, he gets himself into situations that beset all other fictional private inquiry agents, but for all the wrong reasons.  And it is this that makes the book unique.

The final puzzle for Zane Lovitt is what he will do next for John Dorn.  There have to be further cases. To predict their direction is hard, but they will be singular.  Lovitt is a new voice in crime fiction.

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