David WhishWilson

The Sawdust House by David Whish-Wilson

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April 2022, no. 441

In David Whish-Wilson’s new historical novel, The Sawdust House, it’s 1856 San Francisco, where the citizen-led Committee of Vigilance has convened to purge foreign undesirables from a city populace swollen beyond control by the gold rush. Of course, armed nativists ‘enthralled by their own performance’ are a common feature of U.S. history, from the Virginian lynch mobs of the late 1700s to that guy in the fuzzy Viking hat parading around the Capitol Building just last year. In an intriguing twist, however, the pitchforks are aimed this time at those ‘vermin from some hellish southern continent’, aka Australians, particularly a criminal element who congregate in a lawless quarter nicknamed Sydney-town.

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You wouldn’t envy any writer releasing a novel at the moment, due to the difficulties getting books in front of readers, yet recent UK statistics indicate a surge in crime fiction sales following the relaxing of lockdown restrictions and the reopening of bookshops. It’s hard to say whether the same optimistic reading of the crime fiction market in Australia holds true, though two new crime novels by début authors – Kyle Perry’s The Bluffs (Michael Joseph, $32.99 pb, 432 pp) and Katherine Firkin’s Sticks and Stones (Bantam, $32.99 pb, 392 pp) – appear to have well and truly jumped out of the blocks. And it’s fair to assume that, given the international commercial and critical success of Megan Goldin’s terrific début novel, The Escape Room, her new book, The Night Swim (Michael Joseph, $32.99 pb, 352 pp), will appeal to antipodean readers this winter.

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Some years ago, a crime-writing friend of mine was at a writer’s festival with Lee Child. After a few drinks, my friend asked Child how he’d gone about preparing to write his Jack Reacher novels. Child’s reply was something along the lines of not putting pen to paper before he’d spent six months reading all of the successful crime novels he could find, and before parsing out exactly what made them popular with readers. Once this was done, he sat down to write. The rest, of course, is history.

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True West by David Whish-Wilson

by
March 2020, no. 419

True West is the latest historical crime thriller from David Whish-Wilson, author of The Summons (2006), Perth (2013), The Coves (2018), and the Frank Swann series. True West is set in Western Australia in 1988, the time when Jack van Tongeren’s Australian Nationalist Movement (ANM) was papering the city with hundreds of thousands of racist posters, and when John Howard and Ian Sinclair were calling for a reduction in Asian immigration. True West ’s protagonist, seventeen-year-old Lee Southern, is on the run from the Knights, a Geraldton-based bikie gang whose marijuana plantation he torched in retaliation for his father’s murder.

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These are exciting times when the new normal for Australian crime fiction is strong domestic interest and sales, but also international attention in the form of Australian-only panels at overseas writers’ festivals, plus regular nominations and awards in Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Whether this is a literary fad or sustainable in the long term – with Australian crime fiction becoming a recognisable ‘brand’ in the manner of Scandi-noir or Tartan-noir – will depend largely upon the sustained quality of the novels produced here.

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For the most part, the burgeoning 1980s nostalgia industry in Australia tends to overlook the fact that back then the states seemed to be engaged in a kind of Sheffield Shield ...

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News from the the Editor's Desk in the August issue of Australian Book Review.

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News from the the Editor's Desk in the September issue of Australian Book Review.

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For this reviewer, it’s been a long five years since the publication of Stephen Daisley’s Traitor (2010). The rightly acclaimed and award-winning début novel wrote of the terrors of war, and the life on the land of one irreparably damaged New Zealand soldier, David. As an exploration of the damage done to an ordinary and unappreciated man, the prose was ...

Rohan Wilson’s To Name Those Lost is a ferocious and brilliant sequel to his The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award-winning début, The Roving Party (2011), which charted the murderous exploits of John Batman and his crew of cutthroats sent out on a punitive expedition to bring Tasmania’s northern Aborigines to heel, by way of terror and genocidal slaughter. The novel divided opinion: was it a realistic exploration of the dark past and birthing rites of the modern nation of Australia, or a gratuitous exercise in reproducing the trauma visited upon Tasmania’s indigenous population? Some Tasmanians may have tired of the representation of their bonny isle as a crucible of gothic violence and misery. Regardless, there is no denying the raw power and purity of intent of Wilson’s To Name Those Lost.

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