Monday, 11 September 2000

Jon Cleary: Helga's Web (1970)

Edition: William Collins, 1971
Review number: 610

Helga's Web is really a police procedural crime novel with a slightly unusual setting (at least so far as novels seen in the UK are concerned) - the body is found in the basement of Sydney Opera House. She turns out to have been a high class call girl with a sideline in blackmail, and so her clients, including a Cabinet minster and the film producer brother of one of the richest men in Sydney, are obvious suspects. However, their position means that they need to be handled with care, and this makes the job of the police much more difficult.

The main character, Sergeant Scobie Malone, is (I think) a series character, other cases being mentioned which fit in with titles of other Cleary novels. Whether or not this is the case, he is believable. So too, on a lesser scale, are the two main blackmail victims on whom his investigation concentrates.

The impression left behind by the novel is that Cleary doesn't like Australians very much. A lot is made of their chauvinistic xenophobia - it is a charge made against several characters, including Malone's parents. The length of time it took to complete the Opera House, and the numerous changes made to its plans, are also ridiculed, and even made an integral part of the story, as it is an alteration which leads to the discovery of the body itself.

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