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By Saul Kenneth Falconer

IR Rating:
The marriage of historical fiction and thriller (with a little backwoods noir thrown in for extra spice) combine well in THE DIABOLUS LEGACY, an irreverent and fast-paced page-turner of a novel.
New South Wales in the 1870s is no place for the faint-hearted: anarchy, public brawling, and bloodshed reign on the streets of Sydney Cove. Enter investigator Cormag MacLeod, who will stop at nothing in his quest to ensure that justice is served in Saul Kenneth Falconer’s historical thriller, THE DIABOLUS LEGACY.

Readers are immediately sucked into the atmospherics of New South Wales circa 1870s in Saul Kenneth Falconer’s THE DIABOLUS LEGACY, a tale peppered with sensory detail. Falconer draws attention to the ‘salt breeze’ and ‘rotting fish’, aurally complemented by masts that ‘groaned and creaked’. Simultaneously, the prose is strewn with enough references to blood to rival Macbeth. Investigator Cormag MacLeod, a veteran of Crimea and Lucknow, is ‘used to blood’ and has been transferred to Sydney Cove on the back of his ‘erratic’ behavior. Assisted by a keen but green young constable by the name of McDermott, MacLeod determines to clear the streets of notorious local criminals whose hallmark is a particularly grisly brand of murder. The protagonist’s superior – ‘a politician first and a public servant second’ – urges cautious and defensive policing. But restraint is not MacLeod’s style. With a bounty on his head in the wake of his killing of an infamous local criminal, he is banished to a rural community in the Hunter Valley. There, he and McDermott are charged with investigating murders so heinous that they appear to be the work of some devilish entity. Indeed, the whole community seems a hotbed of macabre goings-on. The combination of fearful, muted townsfolk and unhelpful local officialdom mean that MacLeod’s inquiries are frustratingly obstructed. However, such hostility only fuels the troubled anti-hero, who harnesses his obsessive nature in relentless pursuit of the perpetrator. And this is a pursuit that leads to the uncovering of past sins that reverberate in the present: the revelation of a sinister legacy.

Falconer’s writing is pacey and graphic, thus ensuring that the pages keep turning – but his central character is the biggest draw in this book. MacLeod has immediate and distinctive appeal: the pipe-smoking, hard-drinking detective lives in squalor above a public house and is paradoxically lawless in his endeavors to uphold the law. He oozes baggage – and it isn’t too long before Falconer reveals the source of MacLeod’s haunted demeanor: in 1872 his wife and young family all succumbed to the rampant smallpox epidemic, leaving MacLeod cruelly deprived of everyone he had ever loved in the world. Such injustice perhaps goes some way to explaining his gruff and dangerously principled persona. Place MacLeod in the midst of a setting that is somber, sepulchral, and menacing, and the formula is a winning one.

The marriage of historical fiction and thriller (with a little backwoods noir thrown in for extra spice) combine well in THE DIABOLUS LEGACY, an irreverent and fast-paced page-turner of a novel.

~Amanda Ellison for IndieReader

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