A serial killer is stalking through Sydney, hell-bent on recreating scenes from the Fabrica, the 16th-century foundation text of modern anatomy. The spate of cold, methodical attacks has the city on edge, but the serial killer may not even be the darkest player in this story.
Desperate for a breakthrough, decorated homicide detective David ‘Spud’ Murphy draws into the case his art historian sister, Joanna, and Sylvia, his wife. Unravelling the mystery of who is behind the killings pushes each of them beyond the limits of what they thought possible.
Shortlisted for the Victoria Premier Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, The Tribute is a meticulously researched, hugely ambitious and superbly crafted debut from Melbourne writer John Byron.
The story alternatives between the perspectives of detective Murphy, his sister, Joanna, and his wife, Sylvia. The novel also follows the perspective of the killer himself—something we don’t often encounter in crime fiction. These chapters are dark and disturbing yet make for some compelling reading, giving necessary insight into the mind of the killer.
Though we learn the identity of the killer quite early on, this in no way detracts from the overall story. Instead, the emphasis is shifted to the police investigation and the gruesome nature of the crimes committed. And I warn you, this story is not for the feint-hearted because the killer doesn’t just murder his victims—he dissects them.
Byron himself studied medicine before pursuing a career in writing, and he puts this experience to good use here through his gory and detailed depictions of the crime scenes. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel squeamish during these scenes, and there were definitely times that I had to pause and urge myself to continue on. And I’m so glad that I did … because what comes next completely threw me. Just when I thought the story was heading in one direction, Byron completely shifted gears, leaving me reeling. I wish I could say more, but to do so would give too much away. Instead, you’ll have to read this for yourself.
The Tribute is so much more than just another gritty crime thriller. It’s a subversive take on modern masculinity and misogyny told through an irresistible crime narrative. The novel also shines a light on a number of important issues that are endemic to contemporary Australian society, including domestic violence.
Dark and unpredictable, chilling but sympathetic, Byron weaves a tapestry of narrative threads towards a mesmerising climax that will challenge the way you think about everyone you meet. The Tribute is hands down one of the most original thrillers of 2021, ushering in John Byron as a formidable new player in Australian crime writing.