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Stephen Greenall's tale of a Sydney underworld is a carefully crafted book ripe with passages of sharply witty dialogue that have a grim humour.
By PETER STUPPLES
Here is a tale of darkest Sydney: the incestuous relationship of the underworld, the police and judiciary, of drugs and violence, of betrayals and thwarted ambitions, of booze and booze, and relations between men and women that bare their primitive roots.
Like many a thriller, there are too many characters, too many sub-plots, hints that are teasers and half-hints that are essential if the reader is to have a sense that they can, with attention, have a half-chance of second-guessing the crime and putting a finger on the perpetrators.
The genre is dominated by the hero-cop, always one step ahead of everyone else, always willing and able to work outside the rules, but always with redemption in the offing.
Stephen Greenall works within these conventions but, at the same time, subverts them. He also subverts the conventions of language and syntax, speeding up the action with shorthand dialogue and snappy narrative, interwoven with capitalised poetry/rap and italicised inner/outer dialogue.
Something grim is happening, events with back-stories driving them that the reader only begins to understand as the book unfolds. A judge was murdered. The crime not solved. Yet someone was fingered to pay a price; the judge's murder covered up by the interweaving interests of criminals and the law. Years later the cases are reopened and old scores settled.
There are no hero-cops. Even the young, think-smart new detective on the block, Karen Millar, has her dark side. All are flawed, implicated, implacable, as violent as the crims.There is no redemption.
This is a carefully crafted book. There are rich passages of sharply witty dialogue that have their own inner grim humour. And the author is saying something about the relationship of modern Australian cosmopolitan life to its early roots in violence, but beyond that, of the basic primitiveness of human behaviour: tribal, violent, power-driven, gender-based.
An impressive first novel, this is no easy read, yet offers the crime-thriller addict a refreshing way of gaining a high.
Peter Stupples teaches at the Dunedin School of Art.