This fast-moving thriller combines love, lust and murder in the heat of an Australian summer. Take some ruthless gangsters, a fiendish murderer and an onslaught of man-eating sharks and you have a breathless page-turner that will make you think twice before booking that holiday Down Under.
Rose Wright knew it had been mistake to bring the kids along to see the tiger shark, even before the horrible thing vomited up a severed human arm.
It had all started to go wrong earlier that afternoon, when the kitchen door crashed open and Alan and Sally charged in from the garden.
"Mum, mum, guess what! Cliff says there's a shark at Coogee."
Rose, who had been chopping an onion for meatloaf, put down the knife and wiped her eyes on the hem of her apron.
"Cliff reckons it's as big as a whale," said Sally.
"It's a shark, stupid, not a whale," Alan scoffed, frowning at his sister. "A tiger one."
Rose noticed their obnoxious playmate Cliff, lurking by the door and looking immensely pleased with himself. "It's got stripes, that's why it's called a tiger shark," he explained. "That means it's a man-eater."
Alan's eyes opened even wider. A man-eater! "Can we go and see it, mum, pur-lease?" he begged.
"Yeah, can we mum, pretty please?"
"No, you certainly cannot," said Rose, before attempting to stem the problem at its source. "Have you seen this shark, Cliff?" she asked, sceptically.
"Yes," the little so-and-so replied. "Twice."
Alan and Sally regarded him with awe for a moment, before launching a renewed bout of energetic pleading, jumping up and down on Rose's new black and white linoleum.
Oh, anything for some peace, thought Rose, as she told the cheering kids to go and get washed.
Coogee was one of Sydney's smaller beaches, dwarfed by once-fashionable Bondi to the north and wild Maroubra to the south, the graveyard of many old sailing ships.
Still, the beach was always popular, with its gentle crescent of white sand, deep seawater baths cut into the rocks at the foot of the cliffs and breezy parks on the cliffs above. It also boasted one of Australia's first shark nets, thick hemp webbing held in place with lead weights and marked by orange buoys, strung from a semi-collapsed wooden pier down to the southern end of the bay.
Of course, after the shocking events of the past summer the shark net was bringing more day-trippers than ever to little Coogee.
Today, at the height of the January summer holidays, hundreds of people were crammed into the protected southern end of the beach, leaving the northern half almost totally deserted.
With three fatal attacks on bathers in as many months, the city was in the grip of shark fever, a communal fear that had been eagerly embraced as an alternative to worrying about wool prices, hungry stomachs and the never-ending Depression.
While the politicians debated the relative values of warning bells or a mass cull, more solutions were being bandied about every day in the newspapers, including shark repellent tablets and even chain mail bathing suits. Most people, however, just decided to stay out of the water altogether.
In the midst of this chaos two local fishermen had struck the equivalent of saltwater gold, trapping a tiger shark in their nets while trawling a mile or so off Coogee Heads. By a further stroke of good fortune, one of the fishermen just happened to be related to the owner of the city's most popular aquarium.
For the past fortnight people had been paying a penny a time to gawp at the shark. Despite a rumour going around that it was already at death's door, the holiday crowds were still pouring in almost faster than the aquarium could cope with.
"Roll up, roll up. He's incredible, he's insatiable, but don't forget he's educational. Feast yer eyes on the tiger shark, before he feasts on you!"
A sunburned teenager, standing on an upturned Fiji banana crate, was yelling into a loud hailer at the corner of Beach Street and Dolphin Street.
Rose was doing her best to tune out the bluster as she waited with Alan and Sally in the queue. (Cliff, having seen the shark twice already, had already been sent home.)
The Coogee Bay Palace Aquarium was a three-storey building in the fashionable art deco style, with a blue and white dome on the roof. On Friday and Saturday nights it was used as a dancehall, the twirling couples illuminated by fairy lights and watched indifferently by the shoals in the enormous glass tanks.
Rose found the idea about as enchanting as an evening at the fishmonger's, and she and her husband had rarely ventured down to the dances even before the children were born.
"Come on now, folks, only a penny. Roll up and see the grinner that's killed more blokes than Uncle Joe Stalin!"
The man in front of Rose and the children chuckled heartily, but several other people shook their heads and a murmur of protest passed along the queue.
Undaunted, the teenager tried again: "He's not a kipper, he's Jack the Ripper."
At that moment a man dressed like a circus ringmaster, in a cream blazer and a straw hat with a cheery red ribbon, emerged from the aquarium and dashed down the street.
"Knock it off," he hissed at the youth. "There's been three men killed, you dope, show a bit of respect."
The ringmaster shooed his errant hawker off the banana box, climbed up in his place and grabbed the loudhailer.
"Thanks for your patience, folks," he called. "The previous viewing party has left the building so if you'd like to start making your way inside we can get this show on the road. And no pushing please, we've got room for you all."
Rose, despite some last-second misgivings, was relieved to finally get out of the sun and into the cool, briny darkness of the aquarium.
The tiger shark was in the largest tank, a glass-walled pool that took up the entire back wall of the building. A man on a stepladder was dropping chunks of bloody meat into the water but the shark was not displaying any interest, allowing the titbits to simply drift past its nose.
Rose, who had been secretly worried about the shark lunging ferociously at paying customers, was relieved to see it circling the tank so listlessly and decided that the rumours about its poor health must be true.
Still, there was no denying the size of the thing; it was at least 15 feet long and as sleek as a submarine, with vertical stripes emblazoned on its flanks. Under other circumstances it's crow-black, scavenger's eyes would have been spine chilling.
The dance floor had filled up and there were more people standing by the bars and amusement stalls at the aquarium's beachside entrance, but the mood of hushed expectation was slowly changing to one of disappointment.
"That thing's crook," somebody shouted after a few minutes.
"What did you expect? Somersaults?" retorted the ringmaster, who Rose now recognised from his photograph in the Sydney Morning Tribune as the Coogee Bay Palace's owner, Sam Gordon.
"I'm tellin' ya, it's as crook as Rookwood!" said the heckler, referring to the city's largest cemetery.
"Why not jump in for a swim then, see how crook he is?" replied Gordon, sweating profusely and dabbing at his gleaming red face with a handkerchief.
"This is a con!" somebody else yelled from over by the bar. "We want our bloody money back."
Rose locked eyes briefly with a fellow mother in the crowd and shook her head at the bad language. "Come along you two, we're leaving," she said to the children.
"But mum, look," said Alan, pointing at the shark. "It's shaking all over."
Sure enough the tiger shark had stopped swimming and was quivering violently. A flutter of panic rippled across the aquarium as the shuddering became steadily more and more dramatic, until the shark gave a convulsive jerk and hacked up a jet of yellowish fluid that hung in the water like egg yolk.
There was a sudden rush of people making for the exits and Rose winced from an elbow in the ribs as she held on to Alan and Sally. Over by the fish and chip stall, an elderly lady was knocked to the ground and a fistfight almost broke out as several men tried to help her up.
"Wait ladies and gents, wait please!" Sam Gordon was yelling. "It's perfectly safe, no need to panic!"
One by one, the crowd turned back to find the shark had indeed swum on as though nothing had happened, dispersing the slime in its wake and revealing a thin, crooked object that was sinking slowly towards the bottom of the tank. One end of this strange and pale thing looked raw and was reddish-brown in colour, and at the other end were five finger-like digits, like a squid or a cuttlefish or a...
"Stone the crows," said a man, his voice high and strangled. "I told yer he was crook."
... or a human arm.
All hell broke loose in the aquarium and Rose gathered Alan and Sally in her arms and fought through the melee, elbowing her way to safety.