"We came to Australia to get away from these people — these problems — but we find them here in Australia as well."
So speaks one of the characters in Gabrielle Lord's remarkably topical novel Dishonour, which revolves around the heated subject of honour killings, violence against women and the vexed question of gang violence.
Sydney-based Lord, who does her own research, says the three separate Coptic Christian women she spoke to had told her the same thing. They thought they had left behind religious discrimination only to find it flourishing in Australia.
Lord says as she was writing the book, gang warfare "was erupting all around me". She spoke to bikies, making the dialogue real-to-life.
"I've always been interested in the abuse of people who aren't able to speak up for themselves," Lord says while taking a break from planting white petunias in her garden.
She says she is enjoying the notoriety of publishing a new book before "sliding back into obscurity".
Lord's book, published earlier this month, is centred on the creation of the fictional RED-V unit, a newly established Sydney police unit set up to fight domestic violence against women, forced marriage and genital mutilation among ethnic groups.
Det-Insp. Debra Hawkins, who is chosen to lead the unit, is inspired by real-life Sydney detective Deborah Wallace, who wears Hawkins' trademark suits and earrings.
Lord loves research and spoke to women in hiding because they had changed their religion, guaranteeing the women's anonymity to get the story out.
"I try not to put over a message," she says. "The integrity of the story is essential. One can't be didactic."
As Hawkins says in her briefing of the new team: "There's only one law in Australia and it doesn't cease to apply at the edge of an ethnic enclave. . . We're not targeting ethnic groups or religious communities, we're targeting criminal behaviours."
I wondered if Lord feared a backlash, given the controversial nature of Dishonour. "I'd welcome it — it would be good to get these things discussed," she says.
Lord had her book vetted by a scholar of Islam.
The author thought discussion of the topics in Dishonour could only be good. "The longer we put an electric fence round it, the bigger the charge gets," she says of the topical issue of "honour" violence.
Lord has written 14 adult novels and her young-adult novels include the award-winning Conspiracy 365 12-volume series, which has been made into a TV series. She won a 2012 Ned Kelly Lifetime Award for Crime Writing.
She says it takes her a year to 18 months to write a book and she writes 1000 words a day. "I don't leave the house until I've written them," she says. "And when I've had enough I send it off. Thank God for editors."
Lord is occupied with young-adult fiction at the moment but is looking forward to a break next year for "gardening, reading, all those things". And maybe planting more petunias.
- UNDER REVIEW*
Hachette Australia $30, ebook $17
Sydney Det-Insp. Debra Hawkins is promoted to head a new unit aiming to help women threatened by domestic violence or arranged marriage. But she must tread a fine line between upholding the law and facing accusations of racism. The detective-inspector meets a young Muslim woman, Rana, whose domineering brothers have just returned from the Middle East fired up and are determined to make their sister conform, to avoid bringing shame on the family. But Rana wants to marry a Christian. While Det-Insp. Hawkins is struggling to help her, she also must grapple with the mystery of her father’s violent death many years before. Someone who knows what happened is sending her clues. Lord combines current affairs with a strong plot to great effect.