Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dark Horizons

"Dark Horizons" by Rex Burns. Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. June 2011.

I'm no expert on mainstream fiction but it seems to me that the folks on the other side of the fence are not as fond of series characters as us genre people. There is a lot to be said in favor of using one character in a lot of short stories, letting him or her develop through a set of different situations.

Our current subject is part of a series by Rex Burns about Constable Leonard Smith, a half-Aborigine police officer in Western Australia. And that brings up another characteristic of mystery fiction: the tale that informs us about a different culture.

In this case Constable Smith is assigned to visit a small aboriginal settlement where three teenagers have recently committed suicide. What strange plaque is eating up the future of the community?

It turns out to be a very old and familiar evil. The most interesting part is watching Smith adapt standard police techniques to the morés of this society where certain things can't even be spoken of - like religious mysteries or the names of the deceased.

What I would like to see in future stories is more about Smith himself. As I said, story series should let us learn more about the character, and so far he is pretty two-dimensional. But the story itself is fascinating, and an excellent read.

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