Cato Kwong and his new wife Sharon Wang are blissfully married, if not a bit sleep deprived, with an infant daughter, Ella. But when Kwong starts working on a series of murders among the Fremantle homeless community, he gets more and more involved, and then the murderer appears to be working his way towards Kwong. Gradually his precious new life starts to look very shaky.
What I really like about Carter’s Cato Kwong series is that each installment deals with a social issue. Heaven sent looks at homelessness, its causes, the prejudices around it, and its use in political bartering and grandstanding. Carter approaches the problem in an inclusive way – the homeless are agents, they are varied, they are people who suddenly find themselves on the edges of the society they once enjoyed: “You don’t have to be a junkie or a fuck-up to find yourself homeless in WA.”
We meet the workers in various authorities that work with the homeless, some are the people that abuse them, some fall under suspicion. We meet a journalist who see the homeless as his key to writing fame, and who enters into a dangerous dialogue with the murderer to further his story. We meet various of Kwong’s colleagues, the ones about to retire, the ones on the lookout for advancement.
As Kwong’s world is appearing before our eyes, the killings continue, and we are party to the thoughts of the killer: he’s male, he has grudges, he has father issues – none of which narrows down the list of suspects in the macho world of Western Australia, with its crumbling boom towns and its visions of “Freo 2020” – where unscrupulous developers are comfortable paying for old buildings to be burnt regardless of the fact that a few homeless people might go up in smoke in the process. It is a world with characters we are familiar with from previous Kwong stories, even Nick Chester from Marlborough man makes a brief appearance.
Against this rich backdrop is the personal story of Kwong and his relationship with Sharon, a couple who one minute are as one and the next find themselves “Like tiptoeing through a minefield.” They withhold information from each other, they are terrified at what is happening, they feel their new life slipping away. And Kwong’s son from his first marriage, Jake, appears – he is ‘male, he has grudges, he has father issues’ – and his presence is another burden for Kwong, yet another thing for which he finds he has limited time, yet copious guilt.
Heaven sent has great characters, especially the women: Sharon: “I can do this shit and I can do it with you”, Tess, an old colleague of Kwong’s: ”had suffered firsthand from men, violence and alcohol – a mundane reality in Australia”, Naomi, the journo’s sister: “the smarter of the two and the one with the real writing talent.” And Kwong himself, brave at the frontline but too scared to talk to his wife or his son. And his colleagues, like DI Mick Hutchens, almost at retirement, relegated to a hashtag wielding social media cop, a bit of an embarrassment, yet loyal to the core.
The plotting of Heaven sent is gripping, as time is running out both to catch the killer and rescue Kwong’s family, and time is running out for Kwong to decide if he is brave enough to deal with depression, anxiety, life … Heaven sent is an excellent murder mystery, with a social conscience and a great sense of place. Highly recommended.