Richard Anderson’s second novel starts with an irresistible hook. Dave Martin, a farmer living on his own after an unspecified tragedy receives a box in the mail. Boxes are not unusual for Dave as, being solitary, he tends to buy his supplies on line. But this box is different. It contains packets of $100 bills. Not long after this box arrives a couple of his neighbours stop by to ask him if he has received anything he should not have. He does not mention the box or the money. Over the following days more boxes turns up, each containing mysterious packets of powder. And then his troubles really begin.
From this simple premise, Anderson spins out a tale of crime, murder and bad deals, of a man on a mission to make some sense of his life, and of a community that is trying to help him despite what appears to be increasingly irrational behaviour. Dave is a sympathetic central character, a man so worn down by his troubles and tragedy that he is willing to court the danger that seems to be involved in solving the mystery of the boxes. A reader can understand his friends’ worry and growing confusing while also watching the way in which involving himself in some action starts to draw Dave out from his self-imposed exile.
Boxed falls firmly in the growing sub genre of Australian rural noir but Anderson, as a farmer himself, brings a real feeling of authenticity to his characters and their environment. From Dave’s run down property with it’s one carefully mown area, to his day at the races trying to launder his ill gotten gains, to his night with the local rural firefighting crew. All this in contrast to the excesses of a plot which involves thugs, possible involvement of Melbourne crime family, blackmail and some dark deeds. Boxed is original, idiosyncratic, atmospheric and satisfying. A great combination for any crime novel.