Book review: The Heat, by Sean O’Leary

8 09 2019

Jake works nights as a security guard / receptionist at a budget Darwin motel. The job suits him: he has an aptitude for smelling out potential trouble, and he has no qualms about enforcing expectations of reasonable behaviour whenever guests under the influence of alcohol or something stronger look to make trouble. But Jake’s problem is that he seldom knows when to back off, and it’s this characteristic that gets him into strife.

The Heat

The strife around which The Heat, Melbourne author Sean O’Leary’s noirish Darwin / Bangkok novella of intrigue and natural justice, revolves begins with the murder of Jake’s friend, the Thai prostitute Angel. Jake’s certain that he knows who’s responsible for Angel’s demise; but the Darwin police aren’t overly interested in the woman’s death and certainly aren’t interested in Jake’s theories on that death, see him only as an unreliable witness with behavioural issues and a police record of his own. But Jake’s not the sort to take defeat lying down, and he’s determined, for the sake of her young daughter being raised by her grandmother in Bangkok, that something positive is going to come out of Angel’s death.

I edited O’Leary’s second collection of stories, Walking (now sadly out of print), in 2016. O’Leary’s writing is taut, visceral, and vivid, as at home within the framework of a literary short story as in an exploration of noirish criminality, and his evocation of place and personality is excellent. The Heat simmers throughout, and its characters amply earn their keep in a story that feels substantially larger than the novella within which it’s confined. If you get the chance to read it, don’t turn down The Heat.