Good crime writers must frequently edge along an ethical tightrope. It balances things out a bit in a world where only one side is playing by the rules. But too much smudging of the line, and they risk undermining the good-guy bad-guy dynamic that in the end is so satisfying.
In The Unbroken Line, Alex Hammond’s hero, defence lawyer Will Harris, is heading home after a night out when he is attacked and beaten up, his girlfriend Eva deliberately slashed across the face. The menacing warning is “Back off.” Things don’t get better. His partner, barrister Chris Miller is arrested after the drug death of a young up-and-coming Aussie Rules Footballer. And he is still subject to an ethical tribunal investigation for his handling of a previous case, and the on-going representation of a known drug dealer, part of a brutal Serbian gang.
It doesn’t help when Will finds out that Chris believes his arrest is part of a far-reaching conspiracy by a group called The Covenant that can trace its roots back to Australia’s Rum Rebellion in 1808. This shadowy group that has for more than two centuries placed members in positions of power across all aspects of Australian life with one aim, to protect their own over all-else.
Hammond has set The Unbroken Line in his home city of Melbourne, Australia, which has been the scene of plenty of high-profile, real-life criminal shenanigans. As he leads the reader through the often seedy side of the city he also exposes the intricacies of the legal system and its often-murky network of relationships between crooks, lawyers, police, politicians and the judiciary. On both counts it has a clear ring of realism.
He weaves an intricate story that zips along pausing for moments where Will’s frustration at the limitations imposed by following the rules is palpable. At almost every turn, between the lines, he is asking how far people will go to do what is important to them: A parent to protect a child? A soldier duty-bound to his mate? A lawyer seeking revenge for his injured girlfriend; a son paying back the people who broke his father; a judge’s belief in his absolute power. And eventually there is the acceptance that the only way you can do the right thing is by getting the devil you already know, to lend a helping hand.
The Unbroken Line is published by Penguin and is the follow up to Blood Witness which was short-listed for the 2014 Ned Kelly award for best first fiction.