Amongst the Dead, Robert Gott

July 9th, 2007

Author: Robert Gott
Publisher: Scribe
Edition released: April 2007
ISBN: 978-1-921215-24-7
270 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

AMONGST THE DEAD is the third novel in Robert Gott's William Power series. William is an "aspirational" but failed Shakespearean actor, turned Private Investigator who finds himself in very unusual circumstances in the Top End of Australia during World War II in AMONGST THE DEAD.

William and his brother Brian are called upon by Australian Military Intelligence to find out the truth behind the suspicious deaths in a crack, very secret squad. William, of course, thinks, that they need him for his superior powers of detection, and because they are to be infiltrated into the squad as part of an entertainment troupe. The North Australia Observer Unit (or Nackaroo's) are a small group of soldiers and their Aboriginal assistants who patrol the Top End of the country, watching for any sign of the Japanese invasion from the Islands of the South Pacific into the Australian Mainland. Intelligence believes that the deaths of three Nackaroo's were highly suspicious, but the level of secrecy of the NAOU means that they cannot trust the investigation to just anybody, and when it comes to somebody stroking his ego, William will volunteer for just about anything.

William is not sure if it helps or complicates the investigation when they discover their third brother - Fulton - is a member of the suspect squad. The inclusion of the entertainment troupe is further complicated by the fact that William's Shakespearean recitation is not exactly the entertainment most appreciated by the troops and that doesn't help William's overall mood, somewhat strained already by the persistent rain, mould, heat, mud, long days walking through the Top End bush, encounters with Crocodiles, Dengue Fever, and murder.

AMONGST THE DEAD has a lovely comic twist with William Power undoubtedly being one of the most over-developed "theatrical" egos doing the rounds. He is, unfortunately, also a bit of a twit, which means that his concept of solving the deaths of the soldiers and two more deaths in the squad after he and Brian arrive, seems to involve a lot of blundering around, an awful lot of shooting his mouth off at the most inappropriate times and an enormous chunk of the investigation feeling well sorry for himself. He also, alas, can't see the woods for the trees, and when he is ultimately accused of killing the two men who died after he arrived, rather than see the wood for what it is, he's too busy feeling righteously indignant followed by madly accusing everyone else around him, to really see what's going on.

Of course, the point of AMONGST THE DEAD is that William doesn't really solve anything - he's the method by which other people sort out a mess that has to be sorted out. But the book doesn't suffer at all from this variance from the norm in crime fiction - if anything it adds a different dimension. In William you have a "hero" that you can truly laugh at - that you just want to sidle up to and whisper "dear me, old chap, put down the Shakespeare script, have a peek over the chip on your shoulder and I suspect you'll see something to your advantage". Having said that - he's marvellously awful - you just can't disagree with Shane Maloney's quotation on the press release. "Literature has had its share of heroes, heroes of many kinds: classic heroes, super heroes, accidental heroes, flawed heroes, anti-heroes. And now, at last, it has a dickhead hero".

The Broken Shore

July 6th, 2007

Having had the great good fortune to read The Broken Shore back in late 2005 / early 2006 I've just been thinking about the rise of buzz about this book. I can't begin to describe how thrilled I am for Mr Temple to have won this award.

At the 2005 Melbourne Writers Festival, The Broken Shore was the "whisper book" in the crime fiction groups. John Harvey (himself a much deserved award winning crime writer) had just read The Broken Shore and he was - not to put too fine a point on it - effusive in his praise.

I had my copy with me during that festival and I was flick reading bits and pieces of the book to see what the fuss was about :) And it only took a few flicks through to realise that this was a book that needed to be savoured.

So I sat to read it one day. You know the feeling only too well - everybody's "raving" about a book - is the darn thing going to live up to the buzz or are you going to left wondering what on earth all the fuss was about - that sense of possibly being greatly disappointed hung over my reading chair whilst I wondered what was going on.

In this case that feeling lasted about one chapter and I was thoroughly hooked. And I read The Broken Shore in two long sittings and then turned around and read it again. Then I bullied my husband into reading it and even managed to foist it on my neighbours :)

Since my initial reading of The Broken Shore a couple of my on-line reading groups have had group readings / discussions about the book and whilst there are some people to whom the book has not appealed, there is a larger percentage of readers to whom The Broken Shore has spoken strongly.

Now, what could be harder to quantify is why a book like The Broken Shore worked for me anyway. Firstly there's the quintessential style - the laid back, understated, "more is said by what's not said than what is said" style. A central character in Joe Cashin who is in so many ways a loner - a truly quiet, unassuming man - the sort of bloke that you could know all your life and find that there are still things that you never knew. These are the types of Australians that I grew up with - those wonderful, stoic quiet people who just got on with things and didn't feel the need to tell you all about themselves. (Or demand you "share" with them). Just left things to slowly unfold as part of the general pace of life.

Good grief I miss those sorts of Australians - I live in the wrong parts of the country now I think because they are still out there!

The story itself also does not pull any punches. Whether we like it or not, the slow burning racism and prejudice that is starkly demonstrated in The Broken Shore does exist here and it was a relief to read a novel that identified that with no sensationalism, no finger pointing, no pretense - just as it was. I think I commented in one online discussion, it may be that the issues that were raised in The Broken Shore have been raised in crime fiction in other countries before - but this is the first time I can remember it being laid out in this manner in our stories, in Australia. That makes it an exceptionally important book in Australian Crime Fiction.

But aside from all of the stuff that was done well in The Broken Shore, it was done in such a quintessentially Australian style. It's our story, written in that classic Crime Fiction method - illuminating the things that happen in a society that make you feel something's not right. Giving the reader a chance to consider what's wrong, look for possible solutions, see our society for what it is. Maybe find a resolution. Maybe not.

Congratulations Peter Temple - CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger Winner for 2007

July 6th, 2007

This is the second year of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger - formerly the CWA Gold Dagger for Fiction - with a prize of 20,000 pounds. This is now the largest award for crime fiction in the world. The winner is Peter Temple for his novel The Broken Shore, published by Quercus.

Duncan Lawrie Dagger: Peter Temple - The Broken Shore (Quercus)

Duncan Lawrie International Dagger: Fred Vargas - Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand (Harvill Secker), translated by Sian Reynolds

The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger: Gillian Flynn - Sharp Objects (Orion)

The CWA New Blood Dagger: Gillian Flynn - Sharp Objects (Orion)

The CWA Dagger in the Library: Stuart MacBride (C.J. Sansom was very highly commended in this category.)

The Debut Dagger: Alan Bradley is this year's winner with The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie. (David Jackson, from the Wirral on Merseyside was Highly Commended with Pariah.)

The Lying Tongue, Andrew Wilson

July 4th, 2007

Author: Andrew Wilson
Publisher: Text Publishing
Edition released: July 2007
ISBN: 978-1-84195-941-2
325 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

Andrew Wilson is the author of a highly renowned biography of Patricia Highsmith and THE LYING TONGUE is his d├ębut novel. In an interesting move the author starts his first novel with the comment "This is not the book I wanted to write. This is not how it was supposed to be at all." All I can say is if he writes what he wants to write and it turns out as good as this one, then bring on the next novel.

Adam Woods is a young man with a degree in Art History and a vague desire to write a novel. With a decidedly dodgy romantic history, Woods heads off to Venice to take up a job as a companion to a young boy. When that post doesn't eventuate he finds himself as live in companion and carer for the reclusive, elderly novelist Gordon Crace. Gordon wrote one of "the" great English novels and promptly disappeared from general sight - never writing another novel. Crace is obsessive, insular, scared of the outside, unable to be left alone, alternatively clinging and moody, and Woods becomes increasingly obsessed with his employer's past. When he discovers that there has been talk of a biography that Crace, seemingly, has rejected out of hand, Woods can't help himself - he cannot stop himself from pursuing the truth behind Crace's past, the story of his famous novel and why he has ended up so reclusive, so timid.

Nothing, absolutely nothing is as it first seems in THE LYING TONGUE. For most of this novel you're struggling to keep track of who is the good guy, who is the bad guy, and exactly what is going on - and all of this with effectively two main characters. There's just this general feeling of claustrophobia, corruption, seduction, manipulation and ruthlessness.

You have to wonder about the influence of movies such as Sleuth (Michael Caine and Sir Laurence Olivier). Reading THE LYING TONGUE bought back thoughts of that movie time and time again - the storylines are nothing like each other of course, but there's something about the intensity of the two characters, their interactions, the menace, that for some reason triggered the memory.

Amazingly there's very little guilt in either of the main characters in THE LYING TONGUE and that, along with the way that both of them seem to be more than happy to manipulate any circumstance to suit their own requirements, makes the whole novel almost breathtakingly ruthless. Mind you, the number of times that you're just flat out deceived by the twists and turns of the truth of these characters makes you get to the end of the novel wondering if you've actually read what you thought you read.

The Lying Tongue, Andrew Wilson

July 1st, 2007

Image from Amazon
The Lying Tongue by Andrew Wilson

Not a review as yet as I'm only 3/4's of the way through, but seeing as I've been so slack in the reading department recently I thought I'd just post a note that so far, I'm loving this book. Very engaging story telling, with a nice feeling of being ever so slightly wrong footed all the way. More soon - I hope to get this finished in the next day or so.