The Brisbane Line by J. P. Powell

1. First lines. 2. Published 2020 Brio Books 3. Women with visiting American sailors, Brisbane, Queensland, 1941 [Public Domain] Source: State Library of Queensland 4. Japanese Anti-American Propaganda [Public Domain] 5. Cars and trams travelling along Victoria Bridge, Brisbane, 1952 [Public Domain] Source: State Library of Queensland

American troops stationed in Brisbane in World War 2 are causing headaches for local authorities. The crimes they commit are investigated by Australian police, but Sergeant Joe Washington, working for the American Criminal Investigation Command, also has an interest especially when the body of an American soldier is found dumped in the cemetery. He suspects that Australian detective Frank Bishof is covering something up.Although Joe is warned not to interfere with the local authority’s work, he is determined to find out the truth.


“Her bag bumped along the ground. At the river’s edge she opened it, pulled out the flick knife and flung it into the centre of the oily current, watching as it sank, the circular ripple contracting to nothing.”

“Senior Sergeant Frank Bischof wasn’t based at Woolloongabba Station but it didn’t surprise Joe to see him here. Local police spoke of the Big Fella’s uncanny knack for always being in the right place at the right time, even if no one knew precisely how he did it. Rumours circulated of a vast web of contacts – other detectives, police on the street, barmaids and touts, hustlers selling cigarettes in the alleys around North Quay, the man selling meat pies on Petrie Terrace.

My opinion:

I found the story to be quite slow-moving, and without a range of highs and lows, but the evocation of wartime Brisbane is vivid.

The opinion of others:
  • Writing New South Wales: “The first half of the book is dedicated to setting the scene which although beautifully done, is a little slow. Fortunately, the pace picks up in the second half and cleverly depicts an often overlooked area of Australia’s war history. For those unfamiliar with this time, it could be well worth reading the historical notes at the end of the book before diving in but the storyline is easy to follow. The beautifully Australian setting is superbly captured, like moments through the lens of Washington’s camera.”
  • Books and Publishing: “The book’s strength is its setting, and Powell’s training as an architect and historian provides an attention to detail that brings to life an underexplored era of Brisbane. Despite its vibrant background, the book is at times a little dull, and the characters—particularly the protagonist—sometimes feel wooden. However, Powell has created a rich version of wartime Brisbane that I could see being used as the foundation for an ongoing series. The Brisbane Line is suited to readers of Australian historical fiction and would do well in Queensland, as the book’s faithful recreation of wartime Brisbane should be of interest to locals.”
Historical note:

Frank Bischof (1904 – 1979) was a detective for the Queensland Police during World War II. He gained the position of Queensland Police Commissioner in 1958. In this position, he worked to improve the reputation of police officers, and boost morale. He was interested in the welfare of children, and had a key role in the Queensland Police Citizens Youth Welfare Association. However, corruption became entrenched during this time, and there were allegations of police protection rackets. Illegal gambling was also in the spotlight, and Bischof was suspected of being involved because of his own gambling habit.

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