A number of years ago, Angela Slatter wrote “Brisneyland by Night” for Twelfth Planet Press’ anthology Sprawl. It was excellent. Vigil is that story grown-up and turned into a novel, with at least two (I believe) more stories about Verity Fassbinder scheduled.
This novel was sent to me by the publisher, as an uncorrected bound proof. Also, I had the enormous privilege of reading it in draft form, which I just can’t tell you how awesome that was. I have re-read it now partly because I have a bad memory and I knew the details had escaped me but that I loved it; partly because it’s Angela Slatter and she always withstands re-reading; and partly because it was sent as a review copy, so of course I had to. It was mostly the first two, though.
Verity Fassbinder “has her feet in two worlds” – that of the Normal, where there is definitely no magic and the only things that go bump in the night are trees in the wind and possums in the bins, and that of the Weyrd. With the Weyrd, things going bump in the night may well be very old, very cranky, and very powerful. Also, weird. Her father was Weyrd; he could change shape and he was a criminal, against both Normal laws and Weyrd customs.
Verity is a wonderfully attractive heroine. She inherited strength from her father but violence is not (always) her first recourse in a dangerous situation; she’s got a pretty short temper and little patience with bureaucracy and authority; she’s a fierce friend and protector of her neighbours, single mum Mel and daughter Lizzie; she lives in a clapped-out old house in Brisbane’s suburbs. She has little interest in fashion, she’s stubborn and determined, she’s willing to compromise and admit when she’s wrong. Basically she’s human, with flaws and problems and the sorts of characteristics I would absolutely love in a friend.
Slatter’s plot is not at all straightforward. She starts with the scenario from “Brisneyland” – children going missing – and builds layer upon layer of Weyrd problems that may or may not be connected. The death of a siren (hence the cover image), the disappearance of a young man, possibly random other deaths – all of which Fassbinder must solve, with varying levels of help and hindrance from a range of friends, acquaintances, enemies and bystanders. It’s a detective story with paranormal elements, and while that’s not a unique proposition it’s the setting and the side characters (and of course Verity herself) that make this wonderful.
Brisbane is by no means a fast-paced city. Slatter has jokes about the places that do or do not get flooded; there’s jokes and having to eat out before 8.30pm; there’s a distinctly slow-paced, I guess Australian feel to the whole situation. Moving this to an American city would make it very different, and lose a lot of its charm; I hope that translates to non-Australian readers.
Verity is aided by Ziggi, driving an entirely disreputable taxi and watching her with his third eye; she’s employed, kind of, by a Weyrd ex-boyfriend, Bela, who has some hidden depths and unexpected shallows. She’s helped and hindered in sometimes equal proportions by the Norn sisters – home of an addictive caramel marshmallow log that I wonder whether Slatter has actually made – and has all-too-frequent dealings with (Normal) Detective Inspector McIntyre, who may very well be my favourite of all the side characters (sorry Ziggi) for her ‘whisky-and-cigarettes voice’ and her even lower interest in putting on a good appearance than Verity. I really hope she continues to turn up throughout the series. I would swap her for Bela any day.
Vigil is fast-paced, quirky, full of twists, and thoroughly grounded in Brisbane (even if it is a somewhat imaginary Brisbane) and the reality of immigrant Australia. I love it and I want more Verity.