The narrator (Claudia) wakes up, suffering from a hangover. She has coffee, a shower and then dresses. Before going, she wakes up the man in her bed, telling him he has to leave because she has to go to a funeral.
On the way down town, she stops to buy a bunch of violets.
She recalls how she met the dead man. He was the brother of an old school friend of hers, Marilyn Bannister, who unexpectedly got in touch with Claudia. Marilyn told Claudia that the police believed her brother Mark had died of natural causes, but that she did not agree.
Claudia drives on out to the cemetery. Mark Bannister has been found dead. His pacemaker [artificial heart] malfunctioned and killed him. However, after the death, Marilyn received an envelope. Inside was a card bearing the mysterious words: ‘TERMINAL ILLNESS’.
The funeral service takes place. As well as Marilyn and her children and Mark’s girlfriend, there are two men watching from a BMW.
Afterwards, at the hotel where the wake is taking place, Claudia meets friends of Mark Bannister. They are surfie. One, Robbie, is particularly friendly towards her. Playing a video game machine with Robbie, she questions him. Robbie says that shortly before his death Mark was given a computer and encouraged to write a novel. Mark’s girlfriend, Sally Villos, joins the group. She is distraught and gets quite drunk.
Later, Claudia replays the tape recording she has made of the conversation with Marilyn. Mark had a hole in his heart. When he died, he had heroin in his blood stream, though not enough to kill him. Back in her room at the hotel where she lives, Claudia receives a gift of lavender. It is, she assumes, from the man who stayed the night before.
An unnamed voice talks of dreams – dreams of his own funeral. There are flowers (including lavender) police, and a variety of images of faces, the media and rubble everywhere. The voice talks of being indestructible.
Claudia gets in touch with an old friend of hers at the motor registry office, Bernie, asking him to check up on the number of the BMW.
As she travels into the city, she ponders the mysterious words on Marilyn’s card. What could they mean? She goes into the computer shop and looks up an old friend, Otto, asking him if he would like to help her in an investigation which involves computers.
She makes and appointment to see a Dr Mackintosh, Mark Bannister’s doctor. He tells her that Mark had arrhythmia, an abnormal rhythm of the heart. She learnt that Mark had two operations for the fitting of pacemakers – one by a Dr Prendergast and one by a Dr Villos. She tells him about the heroin found in Mark’s bloodstream, but the doctor, though surprised, it would not have killed the young man.
Going to the Allergy Clinic, Claudia looks up an old friend of her, Lucy. She puts Claudia on to the medical technician, Steve Angell.
Claudia manages to see Steve Angell. She asks him about Mark Bannister, with whom he had been involved because of the pace maker. She learns that Mark had his pacemaker and heart function checked electronically by computer link-up. He tells her about the sophisticated type of pacemaker that Mark had in his body. They then learn more about one another, and its obvious the two are attracted. Steve invites her to come around to his place. Claudia wonders how Steve could remember Mark’s case, but it turns out that he remembers him because of his very sensitive heart and the time her nearly died when Steve was testing the pacemaker.
Claudia and Otto go to visit Mark’s flat in Bondi. They enter the flat and examine it carefully. While Claudia looks around, finding nothing suspicious, Otto checks the computer. There is nothing on the computer at all. They check the other flats in the block, but the only inhabitant whom she meets refuses to speak with her.
On a hunch, she crosses to the flats opposite the back of Mark’s flats, and guessing, rings the bell belonging to the inhabitants of the top flat, opposite Mark’s. Inside, she meets a Mr and Mrs Levack. It emerges that Mrs Levack spends much of her time looking out the window at the neighbours. She watched Mark Bannister a lot. Claudia learns that Mark was often visited by a girl and sometimes a man. The day that Mark died, Mrs Levack was watching. She describes how he got very upset and then fell over. In came the girl, and shortly after the man (whom she believes to be a plain clothes policeman). Claudia thanks Mrs Levack and goes.
The unnamed monologue picks up again. The speaker remembers being a fugitive from the Nazis and mocked as a refugee when he came to Australia. At school, he was bullied by the other boys, until he took them aside one by one and showed him his knife. He remembers the terror of nearly being caught by the Nazis and losing his mother, of escaping from Poland and making his way out of Nazi territory. He remembers his attitude towards the way Polish heroes and names were misused in his Australian school.
Claudia traces the BMW to a house in a Sydney suburb (Bronte). She knocks at the door, and is taken in by an old lady. The house is full of cats. The BMW turns out to belong to the old lady’s ex-boxer son Ronny, whom Claudia recognizes from photos as the man she had seen on the street corner in Bondi when she was visiting Mark’s flat. Mrs O’Toole does not know of her son’s whereabouts.
Claudia sees the BMW drive past. She travels to Bondi, and goes onto the beach, looking for Robbie. He spots her, and they talk. Robbie agrees that Mark Bannister took heroin, and is reluctantly forced to admit that it came from the video arcade nearby.
Claudia is still being shadowed by the BMW, and after some diversionary tactics, she realises that it is following her car, not her personally. She returns to the computer shop and asks Otto about electronic shadowing. Together they examine her car. Otto finds a transmitter hidden on her car and they remove it, instead placing it on a police car.
Claudia visits the home of Dr Villos. The only person home is Sally, and she is very nervous. When Claudia asks about the man who came into Mark’s flat when she was there, she is evasive. She refuse to say any more.
Claudia gets in touch with an old friend from university days, Carol Rawlins, now a police detective, and asks to investigate Mark’s death on the police computer.
Claudia meets Steve Angell. He tells her about his experiment once taking heroin. They walk down to a park beside the Harbour, developing their relationship, and he invites her to his place again.
Meeting her old friend Carol, Claudia asks about what she has found. Carols reply is quite simple: ‘No suspicious circumstances’.
The unnamed voice talks about the sort of business he is in – murder. He talks about the methodical way he stalks his victim, choosing an unguarded moment to strike. He gives an example of a ‘hit’ on a man, shot dead outside his mother’s house.
Disguising herself, Claudia goes to the video arcade. After playing one of the machines for a while, she talks to the nig Maori bouncer, asking for a heroin ‘score’. He roughly tells her to go.
Sitting in hamburger joint across the road, she watches the video. After a while, Ronnie O’Toole turns up in the BMW. She follows it. In a back alley, O’Toole is supervising the loading of videogame machines into a customs van. She follows the van when it drives off.
It makes it way to the container terminal at the port. Leaving her car, she climbs into the terminal yard. The men take the video machines out of a container, substitute them for the ones they have brought in the van, and re seal the container, as if none of it had happened at all. However, when she goes back to the car, it is to find that the truck that was hiding it has gone. the men have seen the car. She hides. Just as she thinks they are about to find her, Ronnie tells the guard it is nothing to worry about. She still cannot escape however. The guard comes back towards her. She kicks and hits him, but only just manages to escape. With guard in pursuit, she dives into the harbour.
She shows up at Steve’s house where she takes a bath. He tends to her wounds and joins her in the bath.
Later, eating, he admits that the work he did in Germany before coming back to be a medical technician in Australia involved illegal phone tapping. She learns that the pacemaker in Mark’s body would not have been subject to examination after his death, and would, because of costs, have been almost certainly recycled. Later they make love.
The unnamed monologist talks about the Sydney he knows, al apparent respectability on the surface, but hiding corruption and all sorts of hidden details underneath.
Returning to her room, Claudia realises someone has been there. She searches everywhere, looking for traces of an intruder. Eventually, on the balcony, she finds in the lavender pot a card. It has replaced the one previously there (inscribed “To my Valentine”). The new card simply reads: “THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF HARRY LAVENDER”. Claudia racks her brain, trying to understand what it means. She knows that Harry Lavender controls Sydney and she’s determined to find out more.
Claudia gets in touch with Brian Collier, a journalist and ex-colleague of her father’s. She keeps an old clipping of her father’s from years back, a clipping which describes a young war orphan called Harry who has made himself useful to a business man with shady connections.
She waits for Brian Collier in the bar of the hotel where she lives. She introduces herself and Brian asks about her father. She admits that she has not seen him for years (since she was five years old) and would probably not recognise him because he was just another ‘dero’ wandering the city. She asks about an article Brian has written about organised crime in Sydney. Although he mentions the Asian connection and the possibility of police corruption, he thinks of the latest wave of killings as ‘take over bids’ as the criminals jostle for position. The reason is the rumoured approaching death by cancer of Harry Lavender. She asks if Ronnie O’Toole might takeover from Harry. Ronnie’s nickname is Johnny the Jumper because of his sadistic habit of jumping on his victim’s legs as a form of torture. Brian thinks Ronnie/Johnny is not smart enough. He tells her that her father did not react the right way to the threats of Harry Lavender years before. She remembers however that the threats were to cut his wife and child (herself), and that this was the reason he took to drink. When she tells him about the book Mark Bannister was writing when he died in mysterious circumstances, and the possibility that it was sent by modem, he agrees, telling her he uses that technique himself to ring in stories. He warns her about getting involved with Harry Lavender, saying Lavender, who is obviously having her followed by Johnny the Jumper, may be only toying with her before he goes for the kill. Brian advises her to get out of the country.
When Claudia gets back to her car, she realises someone has been interfering with it. She checks it carefully, but can see nothing. Sitting inside, nervously wondering whether she should turn on the ignition, she thinks about her life. She starts the car and heads off, nearly hit by a speeding black Porsche.
With memories of the threats years ago by Harry Lavender against her father, she rings her ex-husband Gary in the country, asking him if the children are alright.
Claudia realises that Harry Lavender is aware of what she is doing – not harming her, but not leaving her alone either. Using the methods she has learnt, she concentrates her mind to still her anxiety.
She rings Otto, getting him to agree to search for a telephone number to which Mark’s computer may have been linked. Then she rings Sally Villos, and secures an invitation.
At Sally’s place, Claudia has a long conversation. She discovers that Sally was the driver of the black Porsche which nearly ran into her on the previous day. She asks to look at Mark’s thing, which Sally brought from his flat. In an address book, under the letter H there is a mystery number – Sally says she does not know whose. Claudia asks Sally about Mark’s computer, brought from his flat and, she sees, plugged in, but Sally denies knowing how to use a computer. There are no disks to go with it.
Sally says that Mark’s manuscript, that one that was to be a ‘best-seller’, was finished just before his death. He was extremely anxious about it being stolen – one reason he took ‘smack’ to calm himself. Claudia tells Sally that Mark was murdered and asks if she wants his murderer to be brought to justice. Sally warns her not to get involved. When Claudia asks Sally if she can borrow the computer (for Otto to analyse), Sally refuses and tells her to leave.
Coming back to the city, Claudia reflects on the nature of Sydney – taken over by the property developers., beautiful but corrupt. ‘Everything stank of Lavender,’ she thinks.
Back in the pub where she lives, she sits in the bar and is accosted by a regular customer, who tells her about the latest crime. She sees the paper and realises that it is a report on the death of Robbie Macmillan. She reads that article. He had his legs broken. She goes to the toilet and is violently sick.
Claudia rings Carol, her contact in the police force, urging her to bring in Johnny the Jumper. Then she tries the mystery number from Mark’s address book. It made an odd noise – the sound of a modem. She rings Otto and tells him that she has founded the number she needs.
Then she broods over the two people she knows that have ended up dead because of this case. She thinks of Steve, worrying about him. Then suddenly she wonders if he too might be involved. She rings him, but there is no answer.
Sally calls Claudia back. She is drunk and distressed. She tells Claudia that two men came to her house after Claudia left, threatened her, searched the place – especially Mark’s possessions – and took away his computer. Claudia questions her, but there are no further details and Claudia suspects the whole story.
Claudia returns to the video games parlour late at night and looks carefully at the building. There is no way of getting in (to look for Mark’s computer) on the ground floor, but she realises the roof is not secure. She goes to a movie, killing time until early morning. In the toilet, she practises her karate.
In the middle of the night, she parks her car in the alley behind the games arcade, which is now closed. On the upper story, above the arcade, are a set of wooden doors, with a chain hanging. She dresses for action, takes a tool bag, climbs onto the roof of a car, and pulls herself up to the doors. For a while she is in danger of being discovered by a drunk below. After a time she is able to break in and enter the building.
Inside, she examines the games machines. There is no sign of drugs in them, but marks where something has been taped inside. Then she hears voices. One of them (the Maoris’) is telling the other that he has been making a nuisance of himself, drawing attention to his actions. ‘Harry doesn’t like that,’ he says.
The Maori pushes the other man into the office. When he leaves, later, Claudia makes her way into the office. On the floor is the body of Johnny the Jumper. He has been shot. In his hands is his tongue. Claudia opens the draws of the desk in the office, finding the titles of companies run by Harry Lavender, including Hartronics (the pacemaker manufacturer) and Sydney Girl (a modelling agency). There is a magazine with a picture of Sally Villos. Claudia looks at the picture of Sally and suddenly realises that she is Harry Lavender’s daughter. Claudia is trying to ring Carol when she is knocked unconscious.
Claudia wakes up to find herself in the car, in the harbour. She has a terrible headache and there is the smell of alcohol everywhere. She is rescued by the ambulance people and police. The police are taking her details, when she insists on speaking to Detective Carol Rawlins (the old contact).
She is brought to Carol and the policemen leave. Claudia tells her story – of entering the Harry Lavender building, finding the body of Johnny the Jumper, and being knocked out. Claudia’s theory is that Robbie Macmillan was set up with a ‘plant’ of heroin, and that Johnny the Jumper was then killed for drawing too much attention to Harry Lavender with this latest murder. Carol is sceptical. The case against Lavender is non-existent – there is no body in the office, no blood stains, no evidence of any kind against Lavender. Meanwhile, Claudia is potentially in danger of being charged for breaking and entering, drunken driving and other misdemeanours.
Nonetheless, Carol believes her, and sends her home with a warning not to go any further in the case against Lavender. At home, delivered by a police car, she takes to bed, exhausted, wondering how Phillip Marlowe survived without ever going to bed.
The unnamed other voice (Harry Lavender) reflects on the city and the future. He compares his business empire to a computer. He recalls the amount of control that can be exercised over hearts so that a person can be kept in a condition where any little exertion or crisis is fatal. He recalls the million dollar scam that he has worked in a bank via computer trickery. His regret is that he will not live long enough to see his power go on. However, like cancer, his influence and empire will survive his death.
Claudia wakes, her head aching, thinking about Harry Lavender. She realises he is playing ‘cat and mouse’ with her. She thinks about how she can find a way to destroy him. She broods about Robbie Macmillan and Mark Bannister, both now dead because of Harry Lavender.
She listens to the answering machine, hearing messages from Otto, Mrs Levack and Steve Angell. She rings Steve, and he invites her over again. Then he mentions some news: the person who had Mark’s pacemaker has died too. It was a car accident and the pace maker is irretrievable. She asks Steve where the pacemaker came from and learns it was Harry Lavender. Distraught, she breaks up with Steve and hangs up.
At Otto’s, she prepares to break into Harry Lavender’s computer system by modem link. The first problem is the password. After long consideration and trying all sorts of possibilities, she thinks of using her own name. It works. Fearfully, she enters the system and reads on the screen (Harry Lavender’s own computer system) ‘TO MY VALENTINE’. Activated, the program shows the shape of a blood red heart, which is gradually devoured by lavender coloured crabs. She realises that it is her heart and that the crabs represent Lavender’s cancer. She realises he is toying with her. She is like a mouse in a maze. Finally, she enters the words ‘THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF HARRY LAVENDER’. She is letting Lavender know that she knows about him.
Once outside Otto’s shop, she makes her way to Bondi, following up the call from Mrs Levack. It turns out that Mrs Levack intercepted a letter from America, addressed to Mark Bannister. It is form a New York publisher, thanking him for the manuscript on disk entitled The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender. They want instructions about returning the disk. Claudia is delighted.
Claudia rings Sally Villos and gets her to meet in a women’s gym, for a sauna. Meanwhile, she rings Brian Collier and Otto, and re-addresses the publisher’s letter to herself. She posts it, confident that it is now safe. However the van that clears the mailbox is obviously not the real thing.
At the gym, she and Sally undress, put towels on and go into the sauna. Claudia questions Sally brutally and threatens her. Sally says she is going to faint from the heat and must have a shower. Back at the change rooms, Sally gets her bag and suddenly Claudia finds a gun pointed at her. Sally admits that she wants the book, Mark’s book. Claudia says that it is in her bag. Sally reaches in and finds only the miniature tape recorder. She is taken momentarily off guard, and Claudia kicks the gun out of her hand. It ends up in the sauna fire. There is a struggle but Claudia wins. She tells the owner of the gym to call the police.
Claudia demands to know what Sally was doing in Mark’s flat just after his death. She realises that Sally had actually injected Mark with heroin. Why? Sally says it was to protect her father. Claudia says her father is Harry Lavender, though Sally denies it, saying her father is Raymond Villos, the surgeon, who could be implicated in the failure of the pacemaker. Claudia asks why she was there at the time and was told because of the cancellation of a modelling session. In Mark’s flat, she read on the screen a message which had killed him – the message that if he got stressed out at all he would die. She also read, Claudia asserts, that she is the daughter of Harry Lavender. Sally denies this.
The police arrive. Claudia asks Carol (Detective Rawlins) if she has been under pressure to protect Lavender. Just as Carol is asking Sally if she wishes to lay charges, there is a sound of explosions. The bullets in the gun which Claudia hurled into the sauna fire during the struggle are exploding. Suddenly, Sally is about to be charged with carrying an illegal firearm.
Outside, Claudia is walking through the streets when she sees the same van (the one which took the letter to Mark) which drives suddenly down the street towards her. She leaps into the police car and tells its driver to go. After a chase, they elude the van, and she tells the driver to go on, while she gets out.
Once again she makes her way through the city, this time towards Darling Harbour. Just as she is getting to the Pyrmont Bridge, she sees the Maori following her. He has a knife. She runs across the bridge, but it is opening because of a yacht moving through underneath. She runs and leaps as hard as she can, and just makes it to the other side. The Maori runs after her and jumps too, but he misses and falls into the Harbour.
Claudia rings Brian Collier and they meet. She tells him the story. Harry Lavender learnt he was going to do in a matter of months. He wanted a record of what he had done – his life and crimes. He picked someone to write his memoirs, which would be published after his death. However, he lived longer than he expected and the incriminating manuscript, as well as its nervy author, began to be a problem. He had Mark killed and the computer erased. Bu there was still the chance of another copy. So he sent the first clue to Mark’s sister and watched while Claudia went on the case, trying to find out.
Claudia rings the New York publishing firm and explains that she wants back the manuscript. The woman there agrees to send it by modem straight away. Then Claudia rings Steve, to apologise for her earlier suspicion, arranging to go with him to Queensland to meet her children. Brian gives her the news that Harry Lavender, in hospital, has lapsed into a coma. She looks out at the city, brooding on its beauty but its continuing underworld of crime.
On Brian’s computer, the manuscript has begun to come through: The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender
3 years ago