The Glass Canoe, David Ireland

Feature Author 2019: David Ireland

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The Glass Canoe (1976) was David Ireland’s fifth novel and his second (of three) Miles Franklin Award winners. It’s a blokey book, everything I’ve read of Ireland’s including, as I’ve already argued A Woman of the Future (1979), is blokey, reflecting his age, his generation. The Glass Canoe is set, although it’s nowhere stated, in the 1950s, in the years after the War when Ireland was in his young manhood, but before the white Australian working class was swamped by waves of southern European immigration.

The writing however is of its time, post-60s and the sexual revolution, one of the reasons that Ireland’s age – he was born in 1927 (here) – sometimes comes as a surprise. If he were younger this would almost be ‘grunge’.

This is the story of a young man, Lance, the Meat Man, ‘Meat’, in Sydney’s west, out Parramatta way, he calls it ‘the Mead’ – Westmead? (map) – working as a groundsman at the local golf club, a serious drinker at his local, the Southern Cross, and secretly recording the stories of his ‘tribe’, the men who gather daily to drink in this dilapidated, yellow-tiled, suburban blood house.

On hot days we jumped fully clothed into our bottomless beer glasses and pushed off from shore without a backward look. Heading for the deep, where it was calm and cool.

The Mead was our territory, the Southern Cross our waterhole. The next tribe west drank at the Bull, and on the other side the nearest tribe holed up at the Exchange. While your tribe’s waterhole flowed, you never went walkabout to another tribe’s waterhole.

Unless there was trouble, some little matter to be settled.

The novel consists of short chapters of half, one or two pages each, sketches from his life, his past, his work, his darling, sketches of his mates and their lives as members of the tribe. A style reminiscent in both the writing and the layout (as I remember them) of Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (1971).

In many ways this is what the Australian Legend had come to – from bushmen cutting out their cheques at the nearest pub in the 1890s after months shearing or droving, to working men in the endless suburbs gathering daily to drink and fight. There are women, as there always are, to serve the beer, to wait at home and cook the dinner and shout at the kids, to have down the creek or up against a wall or in the back of the car, there are even some, as big and tough as the men, drinking at the bar, and then there is his darling, petite, beautiful, endlessly pleased to see him.

To the extent there is a plot it concerns Sibley, the boy who chose to escape from the Mead but who returns to study drinkers, whom he sees as outside of and beneath society, for his PhD; Meat’s ongoing and probably failing relationship with his darling; and the decline and eventual redevelopment of the Southern Cross, foreshadowing the decline of the Tribe.

Ireland uses Meat, who was good at school but chose not to do anything with it and instead muses whimsically about how things work, from record players to the universe, without ever wishing to know, to tell the story, but uses another character, Alky Jack whom Meat admires, to present Ireland’s own libertarian views.

‘The population must be kept passive,’ I heard him say. ‘This is done by myth. These myths are put in your cornflakes every morning …’

‘… that it’s a free society … human rights are respected … we’re all equal, the elite is generous and just and the best people to be in charge … that our bosses work like buggery and the mob is lazy, they’re honest and we’re dishonest, they’re superior and we’re inferior. That’s the myth.’

The Glass Canoe is a contradiction, and I think this is true of much of Ireland’s work, brilliantly written and politically, hopelessly old-fashioned, though he’s pretty modern, gross even, about fucking and fighting. The following year, 1977, Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip came out, another novel of inner suburban substance abuse in which the characters are clearly a generation younger than Meat’s ‘tribe’ (though the MF judges went with another old fashioned work, Ruth Park’s Swords and Crowns and Rings). Ireland is old fashioned to the point of being reactionary about male bonding, about the subservience of women, and about the irrelevance of Aborigines and the appropriation of their stories

Being forced to drink at another pub was cruel. Like black men forced to leave their sacred places and water holes and become strangers in another tribe.

In the 1970s and 80s I devoured Ireland. I still think he is one of our great writers. But it is obvious too that I had absorbed the myths of Australian manhood and hadn’t – despite a decade’s immersion in socialist, anarchist and anti-war philosophy – begun to even remotely understand the problems race and gender identity.

Do I think you should read The Glass Canoe, yes I do. It’s an accurate portrait of working men, of working men who drank, of our fathers’ generation. If you’re a baby boomer who spent endless afternoons and evenings in the backseat, in the car park of the local hotel, then you will know Meat, you will know King and Mick and Serge and Alky Jack and Darkfella. David Ireland is worth reading, but read him (read everyone!) critically.

Above all, read David Ireland and post a review so I can share it and link it to my page (it’s coming!).

 

David Ireland, The Glass Canoe, Penguin, Melbourne, 1976

see also:
Lisa’s review at ANZLitLovers (here)
David Ireland (here)

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Bungaree

Journal: 027

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A week or so ago Sue at Whispering Gums reviewed Reading Victoria’s Suburbs & Pieces page, “a new piece of writing each week, free and online, themed around a suburb or town in Victoria. From fiction to nonfiction, poetry to prose, the only constant was the titles.” (I’ll link you to Sue (here) and you can follow her links to Reading Victoria). Despite the 25 years I’ve lived in the West, my heart still lives in Victoria where I was born, grew up and raised a family. Bungaree is not one of the 20 or so Victorian places I lived in but it played a short, significant part in my life (and I in its!).


Bungaree is of course the name of a prominent Indigenous man, of the Kuringgai people north of Sydney, during the early days of white settlement. It is also the name of a farming hamlet, south of Ballarat on the old Western Highway, long since bypassed, green, damp, hilly, black-soil potato country.

In the early hours of March 27 – mum’s birthday as it happens – 1976, I was at the wheel of a Brown & Mitchell Kenworth, a big red truck towing a big red pantec trailer loaded with 20 tons of bagged gypsum from Adelaide to Melbourne. My brother B3, a young policeman, was with me because, well because he could be. Any chance to drive. We’d called in at Stawell caravan park before midnight, found the Young Bride out, with friends at the Glenorchy football club ball, in the long cream dress she got married in still seeing occasional service as an evening gown, so we pressed on.

Misty rain was falling as we crested the rise into Bungaree then dropped down into the long right-hander through the scattering of houses. A car was coming towards us, lights on high beam. I aimed to the left of it, backing off, unable to judge the sweep of the corner in the dark and the rain and the blinding light. The crunching of gravel told me I was off the bitumen and on to the shoulder. And still the car was directly in front. I pulled as hard as possible to the right. Crashed into, over the car, swerved out across the wide verge, skating on wet grass, steering, braking furiously, around a power pole, through the front verandah of a weatherboard house, the Bungaree Police Station and into the front room.

Where there were five people sleeping on mattresses, an old man, his son, and three children.

In the pitch dark the truck engine roared. The man trapped under the left front wheel screamed. Someone, the policeman came running from the back of the house, shouted at him to shut up, he did, at me to stop the noise, I tried. Forced my arm under the windscreen lying flat on the dash, to the key, which did not work. Shoved the truck into gear and stalled the engine. For a moment all was quiet. B3 said “I’m ok, are you ok?” (At some stage he also said “Happy birthday, Mum”, but now I don’t remember when) and, his door up against an interior wall, crawled out through the sleeper cab, around the roofing iron separating us from my left ear to his right ear and we both got out my side, over the old man quiet beside the right hand steer.

At that stage we didn’t know about the three kids. One was rolled up in a mattress, in the stumps of the house, under the front of the truck, one had run away out the back, and I guess the third one we missed. Anyway they were all ok, though you can only imagine their nightmares.

B3 and I left the policeman to his family and ran out onto the road, to the car. It was crushed all down the left side, knocked off the road into the table drain. The driver told us to leave him alone, let him sleep. He was young, coming home from a party, had just dropped off his girlfriend, and driving home to Ballarat, had pulled up on the road, on the wrong side, had fallen asleep, lights blazing.

Within minutes, as you can imagine, there were police everywhere. The car driver was taken to hospital where doctors, on strike about something, managed to not give him a blood alcohol test. B3 was taken to hospital to have his head stitched. At this point I discover I don’t know how he got home. The old man was taken to hospital where he died the next day of heart failure. Rescuers jacked the truck off the ankle of the trapped man and he was taken to hospital. I sat in the back of a police car, was questioned then left alone. Later, the depot manager from Adelaide on his way to Melbourne, had his worst fears realised when he saw the ‘B&M’ on the sides of the trailer sticking out of the wrecked house. He came over to where I was sitting. “Are you ok?” I was ok. “All right, stay here, you’re in charge.” And off he went.

Some time after daybreak we all went back to the Ballarat police station. I sat in the canteen. When a load of stuff from Bungaree was brought in I joined the policemen putting it in storage. But mostly I just sat. It was lunchtime before Don my mate came down from Stawell in his powder blue GT Falcon to collect me, bringing Laverne, his girlfriend, and YB.

We went down to Bungaree for a look then headed off home. “Are you ok?” YB asked. “Yeah sure.” “Today was the day I was going to tell you we’re breaking up,” she said.

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Not my photo. It’s been on the net for ages and I’m pretty sure it’s my truck. At the coroner’s enquiry we were told that hitting the car had destroyed my steering, severed the airlines to my brakes and pushed the left front wheel back into the battery box. So I had no lights, no steering, no brakes and all my desperate maneuvers to avoid the power pole, to miss the house were illusory, without effect, without the possibility of effect. At a subsequent court case the car driver had his licence suspended and received a small fine.

Recently I discovered that school students had written an account of the accident (here). There are differences between my account and theirs. There were differences between my account and B3’s at the inquest. I have told the story as I have remembered it, or as I have remembered retelling it. I’m with Murnane, we don’t remember events, all we remember is memories.

David Ireland

Feature Author 2019: David Ireland

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Sydney, the emerald city towards which all politicians, businessmen and other spivs naturally gravitate is little more than a fringe of high rises and multi million dollar mansions with Harbour or Ocean views. The rest, from inner suburban Glebe to the Blue Mountains, 4 million plus of Sydney’s official 5 million population, is the West, its heart Parramatta, these days a CBD in its own right, 20 km up river (map). And it is the West which is David Ireland’s home.

Reportedly born on a table in Lakemba (south-west Sydney) in 1927, Ireland grew up around Parramatta and was employed for a number of years at the Siverwater oil refinery, on the river downstream of Parramatta, and the setting for his most famous novel, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner. In another novel, The Glass Canoe, the protagonist discusses being good at school work but chucking it in to be with his mates. Interestingly, although it occupied most of his teen years, he does not seem to write about the War (WWII).

Over the last couple of years looking at early Australian women writers we have been building up an idea of the characteristics of each “generation” (see Gen 1, Gen 2). We’ll see later in the year that my Gen 3, which encompasses the 1920s through 1950s, is marked both by social realism and the last decades of white monoculturalism, although plenty of guys in particular stuck with the tropes of Gen 2 – nationalism, the Bush, mateship (and that is still true today), extending them into writing about the two World Wars.

It is often said that ‘the sixties’ didn’t arrive in Australia until the 1970s, but realistically they arrived and Gen 4 dates from, around 1966 or 67, with anti-Vietnam War protests, second wave feminism and the advent of multiculturalism following post war migration from southern Europe, dates in fact from the late teenage years of us Baby Boomers.

The relevance of this to Ireland is that he, like Thomas Keneally for instance, is too old to be a baby boomer but his writing mostly fits within Gen 4, though he does look back in his early work to a male, Anglo working class that by the time he began writing was coming to an end. Still it is very easy, reading his novels to think of Ireland as 20 years younger than he actually is. His novels are –

The Chantic Bird (1968)
The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971) – Miles Franklin winner
The Flesheaters (1972)
Burn (1974)
The Glass Canoe (1976) – Miles Franklin winner
A Woman of the Future (1979) – Miles Franklin winner
City of Women (1981)
Archimedes and the Seagle (1984)
Bloodfather (1987)
The Chosen (1997)
The World Repair Video Game (2015)

Over the course of 2019 I hope to write and/or collect reviews (from you!) for all Ireland’s novels, and of course to set up a page so that they are all accessible. Ireland is undoubtedly an important Australian writer and The Unknown Industrial Prisoner especially is one of our great books. For various reasons Ireland has become unpopular with readers and with publishers and his reputed right-wing politics may be part of this though I could find nothing through google. His most recent work The World Repair Video Game was eventually serialized and then published in hardback by Tasmania’s Island literary mag (who may still have copies on hand).

Ireland will be 92 this year. Is he still writing? You’d think not. But I suspect that 18 year gap after The Chosen contains more than one unpublished novel.

Reviews:

The Unknown Industrial Prisoner Lisa/ANZLL (here)
Burn I found intolerably racist and could not finish.
The Glass Canoe Lisa/ANZLL (here)
A Woman of the Future (here) see Bonny Cassidy Sydney Review of Books (here)
The World Repair Video Game (here) Lisa/ANZLL (here)

Other material:

D. Musgrave, Post-Carnivalism in David Ireland’s The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, 2013 (pdf here)
The Conversation: The Case for David Ireland’s The Glass Canoe, Apr 2014 (here)
ABC podcast: The Renaissance of David Ireland, May 2015 (here)
SMH: The Return of David Ireland, Genius, May 2016 (here)
Aust Explained: The Glass Canoe, Sept 2016 (here)
J.Rank.org: David Ireland critical study (here)
Helen Daniel, Double Agent: David Ireland and His Work, Penguin, 1982
Ken Gelder, Atomic Fiction: The Novels of David Ireland UQP, 1993.

The Butcherbird Stories, A.S. Patrić

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As a writer I wonder about those of us who have been removed from our places of birth, who leave language, history and ancestry to begin anew somewhere else. We become proud owners of words inherited from parents that are not our own. Our first sentences are composed within a literary history that has given us so few pages we barely exist. (Punctuated Air).

Alex Patrić is an astonishingly good writer. I loved Black Rock White City (2015), his debut, and yet (illogically!) felt betrayed by his next, Atlantic Black (2017), read the reviews but wouldn’t read the book, wanted him back here, back in Australia, Melbourne, dissecting us, himself, Anglos and reffos, with his precis, ‘removed’ prose. And now we have him, in this collection, published by Transit Lounge in hardback. I bought a copy at Christmas, but was unable to give it away, have been reading one story each night I was sufficiently awake.

The collection consists of 11 stories, unrelated (to continue a discussion I’ve been having elsewhere), from a few pages long to sixty, that reflect in different ways Patrić’s heritage as an eastern European (Bosnian Serb) man in Australia. The longest story, Among the Ruins reads as a European fairy tale, of a street-vendor of roasted nuts, bankrupted when his nut wholesaling business burnt down, now supporting himself as a subcontractor employed to play terrifying tricks on others.

Bruna Kramzer had a wife and two children, and in-laws who lived in house, for the most part harmoniously. He lied to them every day when he told them he still ran his business selling nuts … His family came to know he was moonlighting as a professional rogue. They needed Bruno’s earnings so they didn’t speak about it openly.

So you can see the writing is simple, but deceptively simple. With each step forward we learn also a little about the past, as the tricks and tricksters circle round on each other.

In another story the protagonist attempts to stop an old widower from committing suicide. I don’t agree with him. It’s not your business. Walk away. Milly argued with me, each individual has a ‘line’ beyond which some acts, by others, are immoral. Me, I have enough trouble being moral myself without forcing it on others. I divide acts by others into the categories ‘useful’ and ‘harmful’.

Patrić resumes his love affair with his adopted home city, with the bayside suburbs he obviously knows and loves. A taxi driver and his passenger –

… had reached the car park overlooking the bay. The beach ran south for two or three kilometres. Red Bluff was barely visible in the overcast haze. The steep cliffs rose thirty metres into the air all the way out to Black Rock. The bay roiled with shallow surf below them. Hundreds of boats and ships bobbled at their berths …

What are the other stories? And more to the point what do I remember of the earlier ones? Taking notes interferes with the process of reading. Taking notes is studying, not reading. And much as I would love to, I cannot bring myself to underline, let alone to desecrate with marginalia. Ah, Avulsion. I’d forgotten the swimming story. A guy doing laps spots a small shape on the bottom:

I swim up the lane, come back. I really don’t want to see it again. I’d rather it was a hallucination… The lane ropes guide me over and past the finger …

Training is addictive, once you’re in you don’t want to stop. Just follow the line, tumble, follow the line, counting laps. But be careful, especially if you’re sharing the lane, not to drift to the side, not to catch your fingers in the hard, coloured circles that make the lane ropes float.

Dead Sun, a man is in hiding, in the attic room of an old couple’s house, in seemingly the room of their dead son, a longer story, placeless, strange.

Punctuated Air, a boy grows up in working class St Albans:

I was born in Belgrade, Serbia, in a part of the city called Zemun – right at the confluence of the rivers Danube and Sava. There was one small room for the three of us to sleep in… My parents were still driven by new love and talked for months about a long journey that would take us far from our two rivers… Australia was one of the first words I heard, whispered in the darkness of that cold bedroom. A word … filled with the warmth of their love for me and their hopes for the future.

In Black Rock, White City the protagonist comes to Australia as an adult, in Punctuated Air as a child, in The Flood he’s born in Mildura (Australia). The novel, these stories, are informed by his lived experience, I don’t expect, or wish, them to be biographical.

And the title story, Butcherbird. A Melbourne man, on a resort holiday with his family, wonders if butcherbird song is no more than a ringtone, mourns a dead lover, swims late at night with a flirtatious fourteen year old, a few pages, a fragment of a life.

The best story, well my favourite, and they’re all good, is Memories of Jane Doe, the last days of a young woman, told backwards.

I’m not sure how old Patrić is, fortyish I suppose. A bio (here) lists his earlier work. I look forward to reading him well into the future.

 

A.S. Patrić, The Butcherbird Stories, Transit Lounge, Melbourne, 2018

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) review (here)

 

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2019

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My masters was built around My Brilliant Career, my truck is named after it, I have done innumerable (well, 23) posts about Franklin, but I have never posted a review of this her first and most famous novel. Luckily however, Emma of Book Around the Corner, last year, and now Karen of Booker Talk – who coincidentally, being respectively French and Welsh, bring an ‘outsider’s’ perspective to the task – have stepped up to the plate for me.


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Every time I picked up my copy of My Brilliant Career, instead of delving straight into the narrative, I found myself simply staring at the cover image.  That girl haunted me. At times it felt as if she was glaring at me, almost daring me to judge her behaviour and her attitudes.  Other times it seemed more that she was asking me a question, inviting a response.

Maybe I’m making far too much of this but I certainly found the image mesmerising. The boldness of the girl’s look combined with her wild, unkempt appearance also perfectly matched the character of the protagonist created by Miles Franklin, Sybylla Melvyn. Read on …

On the Road Again

Journal: 026

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Do you remember this sentence from Seasons Greetings 2018 – “I’ve pulled my last trailer for Sam and Dragan.” Not! This other sentence – “I’ve already handed the truck over to a mechanic who has promised to set it up for the next million kilometres of its working life” is the clue. As is the way with engine rebuilds, one thing led to another, the price went up and up, and trailer buying has been pushed back a month or two.

Once the mechanic was finished I took the truck around the corner to a signwriter (a decal maker these days) with the results you see. Years ago, when paint jobs were free with new trucks Milly and I spent ages coming up with fancy colour schemes for the new Scania I never bought. These days, particularly in the West, most trucks are white, but one of the joys of ownership is being able to personalize your ride.

Anyway, I sat down last weekend with Sam and Dragan and we decided it made sense to go on a bit longer as we were, build up a bit of a backstop before I splashed all my cash on trailers. (I looked at finance, but the idea of releasing all that info into the wild filled me with horror). So here I am heading off to … Melbourne as it happened and now I’m on the way home.

The other thing I did over the break – apart from my quarterly and annual tax, isn’t that neverending?! – is I made myself a website, using WordPress, billhtrucking.com if you want to have a look. I used a totally new gmail account to set it up, but they still managed somehow to link back to theaustralianlegend. Don’t ask me how. I’ll use the site to issue posts, but only to advise clients, potential clients (and family) where I expect to be next; and really only as a device to maintain a list of trips done.

I also had a shot at using the ‘gallery’ option for photos, but I’m not really happy with it as it adds new pics at the bottom, rather than at the top where you would see them straight away. Still, WordPress were very helpful in getting me started and another chat with their help desk would probably get that fixed too (no they didn’t).

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Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2019

Thank you everyone for participating in AWW Gen 2 Week – readers, commenters, reviewers. Please note that Brona has done a second Ethel Turner review – The Story of a Baby – which I won’t be able to read for another day or so (sorry Brona).

Interestingly during the week, we didn’t discuss Barbara Baynton, Henry Handel Richardson, nor the period’s most popular books, My Brilliant Career and Seven Little Australians. But these have all been reviewed previously and I think that with the authors we did discuss this time we have gained a good idea of how women writers responded to the dominant trends – nationalism and bush realism – of the 90s. 

The updated list of posts for the week is as follows:-

Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers, ANZLitLovers

Mary Grant Bruce, Billabong series, Michelle Scott Tucker

Monday Musings on Australian Literature: Capel Boake, Whispering Gums

Capel Boake: Three short stories Whispering Gums

Ethel Turner, In the Mist of the Mountains, Brona’s Books

Ethel Turner, The Story of a Baby, Brona’s Books

Louise Mack, A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War, Nancy Elin

Louise Mack, Teens, wadh

Louise Mack, Girls Together, Whispering Gums

Miles Franklin, Joseph Furphy, wadh

Rosa Praed, Sister Sorrow, Jessica White

Background –

Louisa Lawson v Kaye Schaffer, wadh

Vance Palmer, The Legend of the Nineties, wadh

Frank Moorhouse ed., The Drover’s Wife, wadh

There’s plenty more on the AWW Gen 2 page, lots of old reviews, more background posts including two on Louise Mack by Sue and Lisa, and with many of the older books out of copyright, I have put links to downloadable text whenever I come across them.

Lisa (ANZLL) also did two posts on Catherine Helen Spence (here) (here) but as I already had entries for Spence on the AWW Gen 1 page, I took the easy option and linked them there.

Reviews subsequent to AWW Gen 2 Week (Jan 2019) –

Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career, Booker Talk

 

One more photo (sorry B.i.L)

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Recent audiobooks

Paullina Simons (F, USA), Red Leaves (2011)
Erica Spindler (F, USA), Triple Six (2016)
Stephanie Laurens (F, Eng), The Murder at Mandeville Hall (2018)
Brenda Niall (F, Aus), True North (2011)
EB North (F, USA), An Unseemly Wife (2014)
Caroll O’Connell (F, USA), Stone Angel (1997)

Currently reading

Louise Mack, Teens
AS Patric, The Butcherbird Stories (2018)
Dave Warner, River of Salt (2019)

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River of Salt, Dave Warner

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When I left Western Australia in 1983 the big pub bands were The Dugites and Dave Warner’s From the Suburbs. Not that I ever got to see them, three kids under six and all that. But after I returned in 2002 I chanced to see a sign outside the Leopold, in Dave Warner’s old stomping ground of Bicton, working class suburb down Freo way, announcing a gig. An opportunity too good to miss and I didn’t. A couple of singers came on and I idly wondered which one was Warner, but when he did appear his booming voice was unmistakable.

I’ve seen him once or twice since, he is a marvellous singer (here’s Just a Suburban Boy – turn it up!) and I don’t know why he never really made it over East or overseas – though he has been named a WA ‘State Living Treasure’. However, as a writer of detective fiction he is just so-so. I thought this may be the second book of his that I have read, and after diligent searching, I find that I read eXXXpresso (2000), from memory a murder mystery based around WA’s first espresso machine, which ex-Mrs Legend and I both enjoyed.

River of Salt (2019) – yes, I requested a review copy – Warner’s tenth, is not set in WA, Warner lives in Sydney now “with his wife and three children”, but on the NSW north coast in the early 1960s. The setting is fictional, a smallish town about an hour south of the Queensland border. Not an area I know at all well so I can’t say what towns it’s based on. The period is not crucial to the story, except that of course it avoids mobile phones and modern forensics. Warner is only a few years younger than me so he lived through the 60s but still his research shows. In fact his writing in general is a bit clunky, though the story itself is good enough.

The ‘hero’ is Blake, a contract killer for the ‘mob’ in Philadelphia (USA). We see him commit two or three cold blooded murders then his older brother and mentor Jimmy, gets himself into trouble, Blake abandons him, and flees to Australia.

Where he becomes a likeable, laid-back, guitar playing, bar-owning, surfer dude. As you do. The real problem with the book is that though we mostly stick with Blake, parts of the story are also written through the POVs of Doreen, Blake’s attractive twenty-something bar manager; Nalder, the local sergeant of police; and least convincingly, Kitty, a local, cute, fifteen year old schoolgirl who attaches herself to Doreen when Doreen runs a dance competition in the bar. Did they really have bars back then? I’m a Victorian – we had hotels and a few licensed restaurants; and girls, and certainly not unaccompanied schoolgirls, weren’t allowed within a mile of them.

Warner uses his considerable rock n’ roll pedigree to construct a background of great 60s music and has Blake learn the guitar and form a band playing ‘surf’ instrumentals, heading for the big time until the Beatles release Love Me Do, and the world changes. Kate W would by this stage of the review have already put up a play list. I am content to link to an absolutely fabulous live version of Australian surf rock band The Atlantics playing Bombora (and yes, turn that right up too!)

The plot is satisfyingly complex. Blake fears the Mob will track him down from Philly; as it happens, local hoods are first on the scene seeking payments for ‘protection’; he is already paying Nalder, who nevertheless hauls him in to find out what he knows about the brutal rape and murder of an out-of-town woman in a shack in the hills (and I know how you all feel about that scenario); Blake decides to find the murderer before he is implicated any further, though Doreen does much of the work; the first serious suspect is Blake’s beach bum/poet friend, Crane; the hoods bash Andy, Blake’s yardman, causing serious head injuries; Andy probably witnessed the victim’s first contact with her murderer but is unable to remember.

It made sense to Blake that if anybody could figure out the killer, it would be him. After all, the one thing he knew a lot about was killing people. He wasn’t proud of this but it was a fact that very few killers had his degree of professionalism: they got sloppy, they made mistakes.

The homicide guys from Sydney arrest Crane; Blake proves it’s someone else; that guy is arrested and Crane released; then Blake comes up with a yet more likely suspect; and then another. Meanwhile his girlfriend/sex buddy goes missing. Is she the next victim?

Kitty wins the dance contest, wins the guy she’s been chasing, they go to the drives and he goes from kissing to heavy petting, to … , she escapes, that guy becomes one of the chain of suspects. Kitty turns to Edith Wharton, learns body language, discovers that her mother knows that her father is having an affair. With someone she knows, as it happens.

Blake runs into an old flame from the US. He’ll have to kill her before she has a chance to let anyone back home know where he is …

It all comes together at the end of course. Blake wins the a girl, a bright future beckons. The murderer is satisfyingly surprising. A fun holiday read, if you overlook that it’s premised on yet another bloody, sexually active, female victim, and at least half a dozen other gratuitous killings.

 

Dave Warner, River of Salt, Fremantle Press, Fremantle WA, 2019

 

I have a 24 hour break coming up, which will give me time to put up a list of contributions to Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2019 which means you still have 2 or 3 days to be on it.