Nicko and bike Frankie in The Melbourne Times Weekly.
Nicko and bike Frankie in The Melbourne Times Weekly.

Author Nick Place’s new novel blends crime and humour on a familiar inner-north stage. Chris Hingston has a coffee with him

Atomica on Brunswick Street is one of many cafes name-checked in Nick Place’s new novel Roll With It, and it’s also where we meet to discuss the book. Place makes it clear the book’s protagonist, Tony Laver, is not based on himself, although they share some characteristics. An addiction to caffeine is one them.

It is in cafes like Atomica and Marios – another of Place’s Fitzroy haunts – he tapped away on his laptop, crafting the novel. He says he never wanted to be one of those cafe-writers who sat on one coffee for hours; now he is on a first-name basis with a host of baristas. He estimates five local cafes will be represented at the party to celebrate Roll With It’s release.

Place is the author of four novels for young teens and Roll With It is his first crime book. The book follows Detective Senior Sergeant Laver, who is shunted from the major-crime unit to the police bike squad after he shoots and kills a suspect.

Place, a former police rounds journalist, says he always wanted to write a crime novel that included the odd joke, for balance.

‘‘Most crime stories are so forensic and so serious,’ he says. “I wanted to write something dangerous and edgy but with humour.”

Place says he worked hard to achieve an authentic tone, a “very deadpan, poker-faced humour”.

More than one colleague has a laugh at the expense of Laver’s new lycra uniform.

Laver is given a fully fleshed-out life with family, friends and a love life, in a reaction to the lone-wolf protagonists of other crime tales.

‘‘The detectives are often these very dour, ‘one man who cannot be bent’ types,’’ Place  says.

‘‘But why don’t they have friends? Why don’t they have a family? I wanted to make Laver more of a well-rounded character.’’

Place, 47, began work in newspapers as a copy boy at the age of 17 and covered crime early in his career as a journalist.

His novel is a mix of real and fictitious stories. His main character shoots a suspect minutes after waking up, having dozed off while on an operation. This, Place says, is based on a true story. Other true anecdotes he collected were left out if they were considered too hard for the audience to swallow.

‘‘There are just these crazy stories, some of the ones that made the book I couldn’t have made up,” he says. “Some of them were so ridiculous I couldn’t include them.”

Like his cop character, Place spends a lot of time cycling around Melbourne’s inner-north. Roll With It’s characters inhabit a world quintessentially Melbourne – from the cafes to the street art.

Place is already working on the sequel, hoping this will be the first in a series.

Laver – and Place – appear to have a few more coffees ahead of them.

■ Roll With It, $24.95 through Hardie Grant.