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Belinda Burns

A crime novel worth its chops, Anthony O’Neill’s highly original The Unscratchables is narrated by tough cop Crusher McNash, a fearless bull terrier detective who is determined to solve a chain of gruesome murders in dogland. Enter Cassisus Lap, a sophisticated Siamese with smarts, and together the odd couple bite off more than your average number of plot twists and dead-end alleys. The tale (or should that be tail?) features humorous cameos from Jack Russell Crowe, Tom Manx and Quentin Riossiti, a moggified doppelgänger to Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter.

O’Neill’s vocabulary is witty, inventive and fun to decipher. Words such as ‘jangler’ for telephone, ‘tooter’ for car and ‘thwucker’ for helicopter complete an alternative, but not unfamiliar, reality where cats compete for universal domination at the expense of the underdog.

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Paradise Updated, Mic Looby’s first novel, is a scathing satire on the tourism industry, in particular the guidebook business. Looby, who worked for many years as an editor and author at Lonely Planet, seems to know his stuff; his novel reads like a thinly veiled dig at his former employer, now a global enterprise.

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The Dark Part of Me by Belinda Burns & The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott

February 2007, no. 288

A number of books have been published of late that theorise the function of literature in contemporary society (a trend indicative of an anxiety about literature in public culture, which is itself worth speculating on). In Why We Read Fiction: Theory of the Mind and the Novel (2006), Lisa Zunshine argues that reading provides us with cognitive practice for our lives as social beings, in which we are called upon to interact with and interpret others. Characterisation, then, would seem to be an important component of the appeal and function of a text. Henry James recognised the importance of character to narrative long ago. In his famous essay, ‘The Art of Fiction’, he asked: ‘What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?’

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