Robert Perrier’s too-cutely titled debut novel Where Angel Fears to Tread is part of the growing sub-genre of Australian crime fiction known as Brisbane-noir. Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, and sits between the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast so is generally associated with sunshine and tropical heat. So while noir is an appellation thrown around everywhere these days the term when applied to Brisbane almost comes across as an oxymoron. That is unless readers are familiar with the long and very public history of corruption and violence in Brisbane and the State of Queensland more generally. For those, Brisbane-noir is less an oxymoron and more just a statement of fact.
Frank Angel is a hit man. He works for an upmarket Brisbane lawyer but for some reason, to be explained much later in the book, he is unable to work anymore. That is before he is asked to do one last job, for a politician who also happens to be the Minister for Police. This request is the framing device for the majority of the book which follows Frank’s trajectory from budding violinist to contract killer. The final act then covers how Frank deals with both his former employer and the tangled web of corruption that he sits in the middle of. Because, if the reader learns anything through his backstory, Frank might be a killer but he has a heart of gold.
Frank Angel is down the line anti-hero. A young man who could have gone on the straight and narrow if only life had thrown him some more breaks. But his father is a corrupt policeman who deals in drugs and beats his cellist, addict mother. And when Frank’s mother tries to flee with his father she is killed. Despite the positive influence of the couple who take him in – an artist and a violinist –Frank ends up going down the dark path that is offered to him – revenge on his mother’s killer – and then deeper still into the criminal underworld. Perrier makes Frank if not wholly believable then at least sympathetic for readers and the overarching plot becomes a story of his redemption.
There are parts of this that do not work so well. Angel’s meet cute with a woman who later becomes essential to the plot feels forced. But moreso is when she moves back to Brisbane, finds Angel out of the blue and then turns out to live next door to other characters that are mixed up in the main plot. One coincidence is acceptable but this string of coincidences pushes the friendship a little too far.
Where Angel Fears to Tread not only falls in the Brisbane-noir tradition but also those books with anti-heroes at their core – Garry Disher’s Wyatt series is a great example of this. Perrier knows Brisbane well and brings its city, suburbs and surrounds to life through the eyes of his killer protagonist. And while the whole enterprise ends with more of a whimper than the bang that might have made it all a little more worth the journey, this is a solid debut.