Drowning City by Ben Atkins – 2014

drowning citySet at the end of the prohibition era in the US, Drowning City is one eventful night in the life of Max Fontana, a partner in a booze smuggling business.  Despite there not being a blameless character in novel, Fontana manages to have a conscience and a haunting past – and to adhere to his own set of standards.  His evening turns fast-paced when he discovers his partner is missing and that Fontana seems to be the only one who doesn’t know one of their consignments was raided while he was out of the country.  He then discovers the business was being defrauded over time, and one of the biggest mysteries he has to solve is whom he can trust.  The narrative is full of noir fiction one liners (A socialite preaching equality? She looked as though she powdered her face with the ground bones of Papa’s factory workers) and is intelligent and cleverly plotted.  The story is set firmly in the political mix of the time, and is full of the irony of criminals feeling ripped off when virtually anyone who wasn’t begging on the streets in the Depression must have been ripping someone off.  What a great read from a young New Zealand author!

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