Love letter to our city – QWeekend
Writer Tony Cavanaugh’s latest novel weaves a wondrous tale of charm and crime in the streets of Brisbane
By Phil Brown
25 May 2019
QWeekend, Courier Mail, Brisbane
He may be from Melbourne originally, but writer and filmmaker Tony Cavanaugh has spent an awful lot of time helping put Brisbane on the map. That started when he and his former partner Simone North moved up and made a groundbreaking television series here. Back in 1995 Fire, which screened on Channel 7, was a revelation and setting a series about firefighters somewhere other than Sydney or Melbourne was, well, brave.
With their company, Liberty Films, they used Brisbane as a location for a string of productions. The film partnership ended with the relationship and Cavanaugh, 62, (pictured), continued dabbling in film (and he still does) but he also turned his considerable talents as a writer to crime fiction.
Another revelation. His hard- boiled fiction featuring locations such as Noosa as well as Brisbane gained him legions of fans. Living for some years in the Queensland capital and on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast gave him multiple settings for his work.
His first four books – Promise, Dead Girl Sing, The Train Rider and Kingdom of the Strong – featured a burnt-out detective called Darian Richards but his latest, Blood River, is a stand-alone book and one of his best.
As for the locale, well, this is a Brisbane novel that celebrates the city despite it being about a serial killer.
Written in his new home in Sydney where he relocated 18 months ago, it is replete with familiar locales and iconic Queensland touchstones such as the Breakfast Creek Hotel.
“I love writing about Brisbane,” he tells me when we chat. “This is a kind of love letter to Brisbane.” If a love letter can include murder and profanity.
While it’s a crime novel (his style has been described as “Aussie noir”) there are poetic passages of great beauty including descriptions of the seasons and the flooding river that will deeply resonate with Queensland readers.
Others will be entranced too, and Cavanaugh expects his readers in France and Germany, where he is published and popular, to also revel in the sense of place he creates, evoking our subtropical city.
As the waters of the Brisbane River rise, so does the tension in this story about homicide detective Lara Ocean, a character with a Chinese mother who is trying to make sense of her own life while tracking down a killer.
The world of Brisbane private schools, of gracious suburbs such as Ascot, of old Queenslanders that Cavanaugh loves so much, is all there.
While it’s about crime, there’s more to it than that.
“The more I write crime, the less interested I am in the actual crimes. I’m more interested in people and places and Queensland has always interested me.”
Growing up in Melbourne he recalls that the north was much misunderstood.
“They used to have a segment on the radio called Only in Queensland, which made fun of what the pointy heads up there were doing Then when I moved there I thought ... this place is gorgeous, charming and the people are terrific. It was kind of mind-blowing.”
After paying homage to Queensland on film, he took to writing books with distinctive local
settings. Blood River is his most descriptive when it comes to dealing with a sense of place and it may be the most distinctly Brisbane novel published for some time.
It doesn’t shirk from chronicling our dark past and the criminal underbelly, but as well as murder most
foul, there’s plenty of jacaranda blooms and subtropical lushness.
And a river runs through it.