There's many a crime novelist for whom a riveting plot and a charismatic protagonist would be enough. But Fremantle-based TV documentary film director turned crime writer, Alan Carter, is not one of them.
"I like to have a little bit more of something to say than that - I think you need some kind of hook as to what the point of all this is," says Carter, who had so much to say about the dark underbelly of WA's mining boom in his debut novel, Prime Cut, that he garnered a 2011 Ned Kelly Best First Fiction Award and a short-listing for the prestigious UK Crime Writer's Debut Dagger Award.
He also won over thousands of fans with his intricately layered plotting, dark humour and superb characterisation. But having "made a bit of a splash," with Prime Cut meant writing the second in the series, Getting Warmer, "was quite daunting".
But if the 53-year-old author experienced any so-called second-novel jitters, there's no trace of them in Getting Warmer, which is as gripping as it gets.
Getting Warmer sees Prime Cut's hero, former golden boy of the WA Police Force, Chinese Australian Det.-Sen. Const. Philip "Cato" Kwong, back from exile and disgrace in the WA mining town of Hopetoun and working on the five-year old case of a missing teenage girl in Fremantle.
However their long-time police informant is playing games with Cato and his boss, DI Mick Hutchens. And as the pair dig in Beeliar Park in the summer heat and recover the body, not of the missing girl but of a pig gruesomely mutilated with nails, Cato's sly corner- cutting rival, Det. Lara Sumich, is called out to a Fremantle nightclub where the body of a man has been discovered.
To complicate matters, just as a boozy, lawless Australia Day looms, a mysterious African youth starts slashing his way around Fremantle with a knife. When Cato himself is stabbed trying to apprehend him, they think they have their man.
But nothing is what it seems in this superbly plotted novel, except for Carter's canny portrayal of the WA zeitgeist and the Fremantle terrain itself, at once familiar yet eerily sinister.
Carter has indeed managed to portray the Fremantle locale so well, home to some of the more sinister happenings in his novel, that even his wife can no longer bear to go jogging along Capo D'Orlando Drive.
"Having read the book she finds it a bit creepy now," he laughs. He also admits it was a bit of a challenge to try to find a "new" Fremantle.
"But I knew I had to bring Cato out of Hopetoun. I couldn't keep killing people there because it isn't big enough. It would be like Midsomer Murders," he said.
British-born Carter has lived in Fremantle for 20 years now, except for a year he spent in Hopetoun where his wife was teaching and where he wrote Prime Cut.
"There were all sorts of things I was pondering in Getting Warmer," he says. "It does continue that theme of the boom from Hopetoun in Prime Cut, back into the broader WA society, and that idea that we seem to be very, very affluent, and yet so angry and unhappy.
"That lack of empathy seems to have grown with affluence and I was intrigued by that. Even the Premier pondered upon it in the last 12 to 18 months, wondering why everybody was so horrible to each other. So I think it's out there. You just see this kind of rage and violence and lack of empathy towards people of difference and it's quite disturbing."I wanted to try and interrogate some of that and some of the affluence and greed in our society now."