Jefferson Shields

Created by Patricia Carlon

It’s the 1960s and Australian private detective JEFFERSON SHIELDS is hired to look into the death of a young female student, Robyn Calder, killed during a protest against the Vietnam War  at a Sydney university that somehow turns into a murder, in Patricia Carlon’s very well-received but preachy Death By Demonstration (2001).

According to the organizers, the demonstration was supposed to be peaceful, but a photo eventually pops up, showing Robyn waving around an iron bar, and acting anything but peaceful. The police and the university would like to lay the blame on Robyn or the protest’s organizers, and Shield’s suspects the Thought Club, a left-wing group that may — or may not — be a front for some kind of criminal activity. There are also rumours, “in some quarters,” that the police may have killed her.

Middle-aged, middle-class and a veteran of World War II, the unassuming, methodical and greying Shields (and the author) can barely conceal their dislike for the hip young protestors he has to deal with in his investigation, but hey, a job’s a job.

The prolific Carlon, who made Sydney her home, was once dubbed “Australia’s Patricia Highsmith,” and likewise had a rather peculiar and secretive life. It was only after her death that the public learned that the reclusive author had been extremely deaf since childhood. Her other books include Hush, It’s a Game, The Unquiet Night, The Running Woman, The Souvenir, The Whispering Wall, Crime of Silence and The Price of an Orphan. Death by Demonstration was her last novel.


  • “. . . the forthright maze-building skills of this tart, hard-boiled author remain superlative.”
    — Janet Maslin, The New York Times
  • “Carlon’s descriptions and deftly applied pressure put her in the same league as Patricia Highsmith.”
    — Entertainment Weekly (Editor’s Choice)
  • “The book does work in depicting what must have been the alarm many experienced at the upsurge in militant youth protest against Vietnam, part of much broader social change sweeping Australian as the country entered the 1970s.”
    Andrew Nette, in Blowback: Late 1960S And ’70S Pulp And Popular Fiction About The Vietnam War December (2018, CrimeReads)


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. |

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