Plotwise, it’s complicated. Someone is progressively eliminating the members of a federal police task force investigating white-collar crime, and Maggie, the shady sister of Caleb’s even shadier former business partner, Frankie, is in it up to her expensive ear rings.
Having been blackmailed into finding Frankie, who clearly doesn’t want to be found, and having discovered Maggie bashed almost to death in her upmarket eastern suburbs home, Caleb is suddenly burdened with responsibility for Tilda, Maggie’s daughter and Frankie’s niece.
A smart nine-year-old, Tilda is fascinated by Caleb’s hearing aids and the sign language that he uses to communicate with his friend Alberto. While Caleb’s deafness followed a bout of meningitis at the age of five, Alberto has been deaf since birth, ‘‘born into a family where deafness was both hereditary and an identity’’. As far as Alberto is concerned, deaf people have an inherent advantage since ‘‘Hearies just talk and think they are listening’’. The politics of deafness is a constant theme. Alberto, however, has problems of his own. Someone is sabotaging his family catering business and he needs Caleb’s help.
It doesn’t take long for Caleb to warm to Tilda, who is stoic in the face of a set of family complications that includes a dead father and a desperately ill mother, and now eager to acquire her own ‘‘sign name’’. And then she’s kidnapped, presumably by the people who want whatever information Maggie is hiding in her strong box. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
While the plot engine rumbles steadily along, the real delight of this novel, as always, are the observations of people and place. After the discovery of the body at the children’s farm, Caleb is interviewed by two detectives: ‘‘one smaller and clean-shaven, his mate with a brown goatee like a half-eaten rabbit.’’
Viskic makes the facial hair pay off twice. First, when ‘‘Rabbit-face’’ speaks, ‘‘the fur parting slightly, then closing’’, and again when Caleb explains that the beard makes it impossible for him to lip read. ‘‘We’re in agreement, then,’’ the clean-shaven cop informs his colleague, ‘‘the face-fur’s got to go.’’ Viskic’s humour may be dry, but it’s always there, bubbling just below the surface even in the grimmest of situations in which Caleb finds himself.
As for her depictions of place, Maggie lives in ‘‘a money-kissed suburb to the east of the city’’: a suburb characterised by ‘‘Victorian mansions and gleaming cars, dress stores containing three items of clothing, all grey’’. It’s the kind of place where Caleb’s ancient Commodore fits right in, alongside the cars of all the ‘‘cleaners, nannies and dog walkers’’. There’s wry political commentary here too.
And then there’s Caleb’s therapist, the unflappable Henry Collins, who prefers to conduct his counselling sessions while doing a weekly shop in ‘‘the high, arching sheds of the Queen Victoria Market’’. Observing Henry sniff a watermelon, Caleb wonders if he could have been a labrador in a previous life.
Darkness for Light ends on a note of hope for Caleb, maybe. What it means for the reader is another absorbing crime novel by a writer whose way with words is, as always, killingly clever.