Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ill Met By a Fish Shop on George Street by Mark McShane

First published 1968; cover shown is the 1969 first UK edition by Hodder & Stoughton (second printing). Jacket art by Ellen Raskin. 191p.

Jack Partridge has spent the better part of his life in Australia, watching his children grow into adults and his business thrive. So it's a shock when he catches the eye of another ex-Londoner while walking down Sydney's George Street one day. Tom Brady is the only one who knows that Jack is a coldblooded killer.

Jack returns home to crawl into bed, terrified that at any moment the police will knock on the door. But there's no knock that day, or the next. For reasons unknown, Tom Brady is keeping his knowledge a secret... for now.

Tom takes a room in a house within sight of Jack's home. The owner of the boarding house is Janet Tree, a middle aged woman who supplements her pension with regular shoplifting expeditions. She sells her ill-gotten goods to a local fence, while self righteously certain she's not a criminal. When she is caught in the act one day and banned from her "best" department store, Janet grows desperate for money and the thrill she gets from stealing.

Jack, meanwhile, is growing more desperate - not only is the waiting killing him, but Janet has wormed some information out of Tom and is now using it to blackmail all the men in the street (as she is unsure which of her neighbours is actually the villain). Tom appears content to simply keep an eye on Jack, even going so far as to shout him to drinks at the local pub.

The story behind Jack's murder all those decades ago in London is gradually revealed as the story unfolds, and when Jack finally divulges his motives behind the killing to Tom, Tom is certain that Jack should not be found guilty for the crime. When Jack decides to end his lifetime on the run and give himself up, Tom is shocked and determined to talk him out of it. The ending is a surprise, and somewhat unbelievable.

Mark McShane (b. 1929), an Australian fiction writer, is most well known for the eerie and brilliant crime novel, 'Seance on a Wet Afternoon.'

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