Murder on Broadway is a rollicking wild West Coast goldfields tale of murder and mayhem. When the obnoxious Reefton Police Sergeant Mackworth Snyder leaves Reefton in the hands of his new Constable Gordon Trembath, in the days leading up to the 1877/78 festive season, the reader just knows the hapless cop is going to have to deal with serious goings on. Fortunately, Trembath has the “town idiot”, Abe, to watch his back, along with Abe’s friend, the town drunk, Little Jimmy. The refrain “he said it would be quiet over Christmas” is used to good effect, as the plans for thievery, swindlery, sly-groggery and all sorts of other nefarious business are being made in Reefton and abroad. The main target for most of this activity is the annual Reefton Boxing Day Race Meeting, and tensions rise as the reader becomes aware of various scams being set up.
Rosanowski’s plotting verges on the operatic, and is very satisfying. His writing style is straightforward and is from a self-deprecating point of view:
“If his words were to be trusted, this show was going to be on a par with anything ever seen in London, Paris or Vienna. He could also have said, “or Hokitika,” because that’s where they had been performing before Reefton.”
Murder on Broadway is a very blokey tale, told from a blokey perspective, and in the omniscient mode; the reader is sometimes asked to remember things, as they will become of relevance later in the story. But for all that, the tale is quite nuanced, with young Trembath becoming aware that things are not always black and white, right or wrong – that just because people are in a position of trust doesn’t mean you should trust them, or just because everyone says someone is stupid or a waste of space, that they necessarily are.
The picture of the times is drawn as a slice of history that was part of the international wave of gold rushes: California, Ballarat, Otago, the West Coast. And the narrative is flecked with mentions of real historical figures such as Bully Hayes. And Abe’s friend Little Jimmy also features in Rosanowski’s novel Treachery Road, set 10 years earlier about the Maungatapu murders.
But knowing about historical figures or the history of the West Coast goldfields is not required to enjoy this book. All the characters are given robust backgrounds, and you get the feel of the muddy turbulent mess of the bustling goldfields service towns, with their mix of hardworking people hoping for a break, petty scoundrels, total blackguards, and entertainers. And you also get a feel of the surrounding bush, in a time when the now declining bush robins would flutter around you as you walked. A very enjoyable read.