This is a bit of an experiment. Work time is eating into – has almost entirely eliminated – reading time, only my voracious consumption of audiobooks enabling me to research and write a self-imposed bare minimum one book review a week, and yet I want to write. What to do? As it happens I am about to change jobs. After 15 years as a tanker driver, seven years in the one job after never making it to two years in all the preceding 50, I am finishing up and things going to plan, will return to carting general freight throughout Australia.
And so from time to time I will write about the Australian legend, the myth of the independent worker in the Bush, from the inside, from dirt roads through the desert, from highways thousands of kilometres long with no or few intervening towns, from a world consisting almost entirely of men, men by and large of little education, working 16 hour days cocooned in near total isolation, men consciously preserving the old culture of mateship in adversity.
As you know already I spend most of those 16 hours listening to ABC news, to football, and above all to books. Listening and thinking, there is always a book I want to talk about and yet because I can’t take notes, can’t locate a paper copy, I can’t write up a review. So I will write about travel, about books, about Australia, maybe even about Australians though that will be a stretch, I really do go days and weeks on my own.
Unfortunately, the bougainvillea above, my straggly kangaroo paw and ever resilient lemon tree will have to go, or die unwatered on my balcony, as I cross our “wide, brown land”, away for weeks at a time.
I have just finished listening to the French murder mystery Irène – pronounced I-ren (with a short i). I was expecting Ay-reen and it took me a while to realise what the reader (Peter Noble) was saying – either the first or second Commander Verhœven novel (the first published and the second translated into English, I think). The author, Lemaitre, a professor of literature, dazzles us – and the Sûreté – with a serial killer whose murders, described in pornographic and misogynistic detail, are faithful renditions of some of the ‘great’ murders of crime fiction.
Most of them, the novels referenced that is, I didn’t recognise and the reviews I’ve read on line don’t say what they are for me to list them here. No Simenon to my surprise and disappointment, but a John D MacDonald from the 1950s, though not the one I listened to earlier in the week, and at the centre of the work, Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991) which Justine Ettler discussed in my interview with her last year.
The Irène of the title is Police Commander Verhœven’s heavily pregnant wife. She doesn’t play a big part in the story, which of course focuses on the efforts of Verhœven’s small squad to understand and discover the murderer, until near the end which when it comes is unexpected and brutal.
The novel, and the translation by Frank Wynne, are well written, both as literature and as genre fiction. If I had a disappointment – apart from Lemaitre not referencing Simenon – it was that there is no great sense of place. Apart from the technicalities to do with a magistrate overseeing the investigation the novel might have been taking place in any metropolis in any western country. Still, if you can handle the gruesome detail, and I usually can’t, worth trying.
John D MacDonald (M, USA), A Bullet for Cinderella (1955)
Peter Temple (M, Aust/Vic), Bad Debts (2005)
Amy Tan (F, USA), The Valley of Amazement (2013)
Oliver Potzsch (M, Ger), The Hangman’s Daughter (2008)
Ellery Queen (M, USA), Blow Hot, Blow Cold (1964)
Margaret Truman (F, USA), Monument to Murder (2011)
Pierre Lemaitre (M, Fra), Irène (2006)
Michelle Scott Tucker (F, Aust/Vic), Elizabeth Macarthur (2018)