Grifter Micky deWitt sails into Sydney. It’s the 1990s and all we know about him is that he knows how to handle a gun and has had to keep moving. From Hamburg to London, to Boston and Antigua, every time Micky ties up his boat in a new country, he lands himself in a heap of trouble. Is he merely moving on, or is he running away, even Micky doesn’t really know.
So why would Australia be any different? He becomes a ‘burglar, barhop and arsonist’ in King’s Cross, Sydney’s red light district, where tourists, locals, gangsters and sex workers go about their daily business.
Written in the first person, Micky’s observes the dysfunctional world around him with suspicion. And he’s right. You can’t trust anyone who inhabits Sydney’s underbelly, least of all Micky. In Micky, the author has created a most unreliable narrator. And even though this reader didn’t particularly like him, the characterisation is utterly convincing, as is the depiction of King’s Cross at the time (pre-Olympics and before the high earning corporates moved in.)
When Micky needs to escape the grimy inner city, he jumps on board his boat Nina, raising the mainsail, sailing from the relative calm of Pittwater out to the open sea at North Head. Rich in detail, Flank Street is so skillfully written, that it hooked this reader, despite lacking a subplot that might have allowed the writer to vary the pace. We never do find out what was Micky’s back story as the writer withholds this information from us, but that just adds, rather than detracts from the mystery.
Micky’s casual sexism may annoy, but it isn’t out of place in this story or genre, particularly given the setting and the era. And Micky’s characterisation is sufficiently complex for this reader to overcome any negative aspects of the world he inhabits.
The two female characters, worldly-wise Carol and the sweet and vulnerable Meagan, come across as fully realised, three-dimensional characters. When Micky first meets Carol he makes assumptions about her based on the way she presents herself to the world. But as he gets to know her, he (and we) find out that she has depth and intelligence that are not immediately revealed. The dialogue is short, sharp and terse, with just the right amount of street talk to make Flank Street a compelling read for fans of hard-boiled crime fiction. Five stars.