CRIME CULTURE: Electric Blue is a sprawling cinematic insight into the New South Wales police force and its forensics team. Sarah McLean with this review.
Following on from the success of the highly acclaimed Loose Units, Paul Verhoeven returns with his father, John, (and now his mother, Christine) to bring readers Electric Blue, a memoir full of enthralling (and astonishingly true) tales and anecdotes collected from an officer’s time spent in forensics – all of which is woven together by Verhoeven into a multi-layered, cinematic narrative.
From the beginning, it’s clear that Electric Blue will be full of rewarding set ups and pay offs; that each aspect of the tales told will eventually be tied together. Hooking the reader from the tense prologue, Verhoeven soon invites them to step into his parents’ home so they can experience John’s (and later Christine’s) journey through the New South Wales police force. Through various asides and interjections, along with the narratives themselves, the reader gets an insight into the good, the bad, and the ugly of forensics. And while those interjections into each story may at first seem disruptive to the overall flow, they work to both inject humour into some otherwise grim cases, and give depth to the father-son relationship.
The little insights into their relationship and their reactions to the cases ground the stories in reality, reminding the reader that these are real people, who make active choices and are ultimately affected by what they see and hear. Furthermore, these asides work to complement John’s stories, to further pull the novel together. Rather than placing the reader into one story and abruptly pulling them out again, they are given a chance to come back to reality, to Paul and John, before getting stuck into the next adventure.
There’s an authenticity in the way each story is told, the way they visit a specific time and place – it’s truly something that the reader will want to savour.
While we can only imagine what it would be like to hear so many interesting stories from our parents and be faced with the task of bringing them together so seamlessly in the space of a few hundred pages, Verhoeven does this with ease by cleverly blending the grit of the true crime thriller with the style and tone of a fictional action/adventure cop narrative. This makes for a book bursting with vivid descriptions, images, voices, and landscapes that roll together like a film.
The book places the reader right into the very real mind of John (giving the reader a sense of how policing has shaped him into who he is today) and the behind-the-scenes world of the New South Wales police force.
Thanks to Verhoeven’s unique style, it’s not hard to picture the almost surreal police headquarters shrouded by sheets of rain, the types of people John encountered on the job, the many bodies he closely studied within the harsh walls of the morgue, or him driving the streets of Sydney’s suburbs, peering out the windscreen of his Kingswood.
Electric Blue proves that both fiction and non-fiction can complement each other; that they can come together in perfect harmony without it feeling like the author has taken too much creative liberty.
One thing that would enhance this book even further is more chapters about Christine, Verhoeven’s equally interesting and awesome mother. The brief, exciting chapters involving Christine fit perfectly within the overall narrative of Electric Blue, but it just wasn’t quite enough. Based on the stories she relays, her career warrants its own book – it would be great to learn more about how she was a pioneer for equality within the NSW police force, and the effects that policing had on her.
Electric Blue is a poetic, authentic, action-packed portrait of the Verhoeven parents (and indirectly, the life of Paul). The way in which Verhoeven hooks the reader from the very beginning of the book, and how he manages to keep the style and tone consistent throughout – despite the multitude of stories, adventures, and outside-of-the-narrative interactions – is a testament to his ability to craft such a detailed, film-like narrative on paper.
A sprawling, insightful memoir, Electric Blue is sure to keep readers glued to every page until the very satisfying end.