Fremantle Press have just released the third DSS Stevie Hooper book by WA based writer Felicity Young, TAKE OUT, following on from HARUM SCARUM and AN EASEFUL DEATH.
Starting off with a prologue that is obviously telegraphing something awful in the future of Mai, a young Asian girl, the action moves to Perth. Stevie is working in the Sex Crimes unit, but it's in her capacity as friend that she steps into the strangely deserted Pavel house that morning. The house is luxurious, big, beautiful, yet it's contents are sparse, scruffy, untidy. The remains of an unfinished meal are on the table, and in one of the back rooms, a young child has been deserted - alive, but strangely it seems he has been fed and looked after until only recently. For days after his parents have both just vanished.
The only reason the baby is discovered in time is because Stevie knows Skye - a young visiting nurse, who has been alerted to something wrong at the Pavel house by one of their neighbours. Unfortunately that elderly neighbour has had a severe stroke affecting her speech patterns, which makes them garbled and nonsensical. A simple disappearance isn't really a case for a DSS in the Sex Crimes squad, and the local police are keen to move her out of the way when they show up, but Stevie's not one that's easily distracted and there are things at this crime scene that don't quite add up. Mind you, Stevie would do well to leave it alone, especially as she and partner Monty are up to their elbows in house renovations, and he's about to undergo major heart surgery.
When the investigation into the father's background quickly reveals a very sinister connection to human trafficking and sexual enslavement Stevie's concern is vindicated and despite worrying about Monty, their house, her daughter, Skye, and her own safety, finds herself ultimately on the trail of a shadowy Madam and her son.
The subject matter of TAKE OUT is sleazy and unpleasant, but it is handled carefully. The sexual exploitation of young people (in this case female) is difficult to comprehend and TAKE OUT makes it that more difficult by letting the reader get to really know one of the (now) women - Mai. Along with Mai's story, and the disappearance of the Pavel husband and wife, there are a number of other lesser, but connected threads, and there is a sprinkling of personal stories - triumphs and sadness as well.
TAKE OUT has a busy plot, but the focus remains on a number of aspects of enforced prostitution, making the novel possibly quite challenging for some readers. There is a very strong concentration on the victims of the sexual exploitation - working on making them human, real people that can be sympathised with. Combine that with Stevie, her work colleagues, her personal life and the increasing complications in both and it does mean that the villains of the piece are little more than bit players for quite a bit of the book. The perpetrators, whilst eventually identified, remain shadowy, almost strangely incidental and there's little if no explanation of the inexplicable attempted - which may intrigue some readers and frustrate others. TAKE OUT does, however, balance the personal angst and professional responsibilities of Stevie a lot better than in the earlier novels, and the complexity of the plot is handled well, believably and with sensitivity. TAKE OUT really does take on a difficult subject with sensitivity and insight, making the victims a point of focus, delivering a realistic (and therefore not all neatly wrapped up and sealed off) resolution. For added measure, there's a bit of a kick in the tail at the end of the book as well. For this reader at least, that alone went miles towards demonstrating why some things remain utterly inexplicable.