Fresh Blood

Name: James Delargy

Title of Book: 55

'...a bold debut that will have many talking about it in 2019.'

Wilbrook in Western Australia is a sleepy, remote town that sits on the edge of miles and miles of unexplored wilderness. It is home to Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, who is proud to run the town’s small police station, a place used to dealing with domestic disputes and noise complaints.

All that changes on a scorching day when an injured man stumbles into Chandler’s station. He’s covered in dried blood. His name is Gabriel. He tells Chandler what he remembers.

He was drugged and driven to a cabin in the mountains and tied up in iron chains. The man who took him was called Heath. Heath told Gabriel he was going to be number 55. His 55th victim.

Heath is a serial killer.

As a manhunt is launched, a man who says he is Heath walks into the same station. He tells Chandler he was taken by a man named Gabriel. Gabriel told Heath he was going to be victim 55.

Gabriel is the serial killer.

Two suspects. Two identical stories. Which one is the truth?

We are only in early April and this is the third novel I have read this year set in the Australian outback, so it appears this harsh terrain is the setting of the moment – and Delargy perfectly incorporates the dangers of this unforgiving landscape to maximum effect.

Chandler Jenkins is the embodiment of law and order, but not much happens in Wilbrook… until two men claim the other is a serial killer. This disrupts Chandler’s quiet, structured life with the arrival of Heath and Gabriel. Who is the intended victim and who the killer? Are both killers? What exactly is the significance of the number 55? Their arrival opens the door for Mitch’s return – his one-time friend and now his nemesis, bringing more instability to Chandler’s shuttered life.

Delargy is very astute at character interaction and this is prominent between the strained relationship (personal and professional) between Chandler and Mitch. Both cannot put their differences aside and point score at any given chance. This antagonism is one of the main drives for Delargy’s story. This runs parallel with the bizarre relationship between Heath and Gabriel.

Interspersed is an account of a search for a young boy in the surrounding mountains of Wilbrook in 2002 when Chandler and Mitch were rookie cops, Chandler with his mind on the cusp of fatherhood as Mitch dreams of escaping and becoming a big name in the police force. This history supplies more background to the two main protagonists.

Delargy superbly throws his reader in to doubt as to whether to believe Heath or Gabriel and in some instances, both. The author cleverly weaves all his strands together, ending ‘55’ on the most breath-taking finale I have ever read and one that will have you thinking about it long after the final page has turned. It will be interesting to see if Delargy will give us more of Wilbrook after his cliff-hanger conclusion. ‘55’ is a bold debut that will have many talking about it in 2019.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) You have travelled and lived around the globe, including Australia, but are now based in the UK. Why did you base your debut novel in Australia?
Australia – and especially West Australia – lends itself to a story like this. Two men entering a police station and telling the exact same story. The remoteness of the area affords no opportunity of third-party corroboration and allows the story to be kept narrow helping the tension. The small town and its inhabitants dragged into a hunt for a serial killer, upsetting the relative tranquillity, stirring the silt from the bottom of the lake and muddying the water.

Australia is also such a wonderful place to write about. There is nothing and there is everything, dangerous and beautiful at the same time. I like to class it as murky and magnificent, malevolent and majestic.

It also allows places to hide, both literally and figuratively. For example, Chandler could be said to be hiding himself, remaining in a town he knows is safe and comforting, a place where nothing happens, and where he doesn’t have to stretch himself. He is also in a way trying to shield his kids from that outside influence for fear of losing them.
2) The premise is two men are accusing the other of holding them captive and being a serial killer and becoming victim no.55. How did this unique idea begin to form in your imagination?
Some ideas are gleaned from newspaper articles or from obscure murders that have taken place in history but this one arrived from a ‘What if…’ What if two men entered a police station and told the exact same story without any third-party corroboration? How would the police determine who was telling the truth?

Then the process is similar to traversing a dark alleyway with only a cheap cigarette lighter for company. It is taken a step at a time, encountering obstacles and attempting to overcome them or subtly changing direction with the ever-present threat that something will spring from the darkness and tear it to pieces. This one made it to the end.
3) The dynamic between Chandler and Mitch is compelling and drives the book as they have an acrimonious history with one another. Did Chandler and Mitch come fully formed or did it take time to build up their strained relationship?
I wanted a character who was generally opposed to what Chandler stood for but who came from the same stock but their paths diverged. Mitch is driven to succeed, he does not want to stay in a small town solving petty crimes forever. He wants to make a name for himself and as it mentions in the book, the badge quickly becomes an essential part of who he is, it is the sense of power that as a teenager he lacked, unlocking his potential, even if it is somewhat malicious.

So, the relationship between Mitch and Chandler I always saw as strained in that way, their diverging priorities further strained by the new girlfriend – Teri – getting between the close friends, helping to drive them apart further.
4) The Australian landscape plays a large part of your book. Do you feel that a sense of place is as important as the story to bring your book to life?
Yes, I believe the place is as much a character in the book as any of the other human characters. Like any character in a book it holds the ability to shape others, to influence the actions of others and even to kill – given the brutal heat. I suppose in certain situations like other characters it can even show a blind compassion in a hidden underground stream or source of escape. In fact, the landscape probably has an advantage over other characters in the fact that it cannot be killed – wounded, yes, but not killed.
5) Australian crime fiction has become quite prominent in recent years. What do you think it is that attracts so many readers to read about crime in these forgotten towns with their barren landscape?
Because I think that crime, thriller and even mystery stories lend themselves to the isolated environment, remote and uncontactable, with the landscape and the weather being the ultimate killer, completely remorseless. This remoteness also adds some elements of the horror genre to the mix including the element of fear. Who is the killer? Who is the victim? Who could be the next victim? Will they be killed by the landscape or by something else? In the outback help is rarely near. And for the many people that live in cities and towns with ready access to help, be it fire, police or ambulance this is intriguing. I am at least.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I am a fan of a number of genres, not just Crime Fiction. I think its important to read a range of genres especially as a writer where you might need to write anything from the insane ramblings of a madman to a short, clipped forensic report.

I find it hard to narrow down what might constitute a crime novel as anything that involves a crime might fall under that category so apologies if these don’t quite find the definition.

The book that might have influenced me the most is The Count of Monte Cristo. It is the first book that made me go ‘Wow!’ It might even have put me off writing a novel for a while as I thought I could never manage anything even remotely that fantastically plotted.

LA Confidential by James Ellroy. Dark and mysterious, I loved how it drew me into the world, the seedy, dark underbelly.

Anything by Ian Rankin, I can’t choose just one. Again, the picture he forms of Edinburgh and his characters only underpins the excellence of his plots.