Shoot Through is Melbourne writer J.M. Green's third novel featuring Stella Harvey, wisecracking social worker and crime investigator. However, in the tradition of the flawed detective she is also a thief.
Stella has twice stolen large amounts of money, the first time from addict clients, who had $50,000 in cash in plastic bags next to their dead bodies. In a "brain snap", Steel took them. The second time she took more, so that now she has a "stash" of over $400,000.
Stella rationalises that in the course of her work and her sideline, "let's call it problem solving", she's been threatened, assaulted, abducted and almost killed. The money to her is a form of "righteous compensation."
As Shoot Through begins, Stella is planning a romantic weekend away with her reformed addict, artist boyfriend, Brophy, but her sister Kylie insists that Stella visits their brother Ben, who is in the Athol Goldwater Agricultural prison.
Kylie has plans for the family farm and wants both Stella and Ben to sign paperwork to relinquish their rights to the property. Stella has no idea of "the unholy mess that was to begin with that visit".
As she meets her brother, another inmate Joe Phelan is found dead. Her old enemy, Marcus Pugh, the Minister for Justice, invites her to join a prison inspection group telling her she has "an ability to get into other people's business", and because there have been rumours that a money making scam has been in operation at Athol Goldwater prison for some time.
Pugh wants Stella to investigate the death of Joe Phelan and so does Joe's mother. Mrs Phelan has heard that Stella is part of the prison inspection group. She and a criminal colleague of Joe's, Percy Brash, pressure Stella into questioning inmates at the prison to discover the truth.
Percy Brash is a terrifying character, a hardened criminal who wants to know who killed Joe so that he can kill him. He gives Stella two weeks or he will kill her instead, telling her, "I'm thinking lyre, I'm thinking caustic solutions, I'm thinking you reduced to mush and bone fragments".
Stella's life is further complicated by Joe's pregnant girlfriend, Loretta, and the news that new evidence has emerged about the theft of the bags of money from Stella's dead drug addicts.
Shoot Through is complex and entertaining. Green sustains a dark sense of humour throughout, as Stella battles against Percy Brash's time limit and the encroaching interest of the police in her past activities.
The last chapter, however, reveals the difficulties of resolving a plot with so many different strands and, as a result, Green leaves Stella, quite literally, all at sea.
- Shoot Through, by J.M Green. Scribe. $29.99.