Cato Kwong fans will be sad to learn that Crocodile Tears will be Alan Carter‘s final adventure for the Perth-based detective.
In his last outing, Cato is set to investigate the murders of two retirees whose bodies have been mutilated to send some sort of message. Meanwhile, Rory Driscoll, multilingual spook, is tasked with babysitting a bunch of whistleblowers who have fallen into the bad books of some seriously shady people, whilst getting them to Darwin for a top secret trial. Both stories lead to Timor-Leste, where secrets from the country’s past – including about their diplomatic relationship with Australia – are beginning to come to the surface.
Though it may be blasphemous to admit it, I had never read a Cato Kwong novel before this one. I was somewhat worried going in that I wouldn’t know enough of the backstory to enjoy Crocodile Tears. While there was the odd reference to things that had happened in the previous book, Alan Carter does a great job of getting his reader as up to speed as they need to be. And he does it without making it feel like he’s standing over their shoulder telling them the whole plot of books one through four. The book ventures more into political thriller territory than I’m told the earlier books did, moving the Cato series away from the police procedural genre of the first three novels.
Cato as a character is extremely well-rounded. By this book, he’s a father of two. His son, Jake, is teenaged and recovering from the events of Heaven Sent, and his daughter Ella is two-years old. Ella’s mother Sharron is in the Australian Federal Police, and while things between Cato and Sharron are generally good, her job and the hours that come with it mean that the pair are often like passing ships in the night. On top of this, Cato is dealing with some issues that he isn’t being entirely honest about.
But, rather than being the typical unfeeling, slightly traumatised detective, Cato balances work and home life as much as he can. He doesn’t always get it right, but as a reader, you always feel that you can trust his sense of right and wrong. Importantly, he doesn’t expect Sharron to give up on her career trajectory now that they have a kid. Smart, relatable characters abound in this novel, and provided a jumping off point for this thriller-newbie to find her way into the flow of the story.
As for the mystery itself? I’ll be the first to admit that political thrillers aren’t really my jam, and so at times I found the plot extremely complicated (but it did make sense). Alan Carter has clearly done his research. The settings feel real, the tensions are high, and when the two plots come together and you realise how everything is related, there is a satisfying ‘Aha!’ moment.
While I don’t think I could have worked out the central puzzle of the book on my own, I think a reader who is well-versed in this genre and this series might just manage it. This is an extremely intelligent thriller, and a fitting ending to the series.