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When Rose, the narrator of Kathleen Stewart’s Men of Bad Character, first visits the bathroom of Gary Gravelly, ‘there in the toilet bowl, frayed around the edges and so long languishing that it had stained the water, was the most enormous rope of turd. That, I said to myself, is the death of romance.’ Rose soon forgets, overwhelmed by the boyish charm of her new lover, but the reader is left with an indelible image. Whatever Rose might think of Gary at any stage – and she changes her opinion many times over the next couple of years – we continue to associate that repulsive image with him. This is not just a bit of earthy bad taste designed to shock. It is a bold and nauseatingly effective way of influencing the reader’s attitude to Gary.

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Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell famously deplores Ernest’s loss of not one but both parents. The great polymath would approve of Peter Temple’s easy mastery of not just two but three popular literary genres. In the Jack Irish series, Temple created a likeable rogue who approximates a Melbourne private eye, and with The Broken Shore (2005) he won crime writing awards for a disciplined police procedural set in rural Victoria. In the Evil Day is an international thriller that moves mainly between Hamburg and London. Again, Temple’s control is strong and deft.

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Berlin, 1948; the Iron Curtain has slammed shut, bisecting a city still pitted and scarred from the calamities of World War II; the Soviet blockade of Berlin and the subsequent Allied airlift are imminent. Around these tectonic moments in history and politics, first-time novelist Greg Flynn sets his thriller, The Berlin Cross.

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Elliot Perlman made a bit of a splash a few years ago with Three Dollars (1998). Parts of the novel were underfictionalised in the most blatant way, parts of it seemed to represent nothing more than the fervencies of what Perlman thought (most of it staunch stuff agin globalisation), but it seemed undeniable that the life and times of these south suburban Melburnian wine and cheesers represented, in Australian terms, a piece of subject matter worth biting off.

It was a bit ridiculous that a book of fiction of rather manifestly modest literary ambitions should be published as the crême de la crême of literary fiction and then pretty much accepted as such. Perlman’s new book confounds the pretension and makes it well and truly the author’s own by purloining the title of one of the twentieth century’s greatest works of literary criticism and adding insult to injury by calling the protagonist’s dog Empson. One of the only times I have been cut by the The Age on the basis of something other than length was when I wrote about William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) – because of the obvious topicality, given the barbarous appropriation – and concluded: ‘So in future, Elliot Perlman, call your dogs something else.’ But then, we live at a time when the latest wannabe fiction is more likely to command reverence than the work of a notable critic and poet. Not the least paradox, though, is that Perlman would be likely to agree.

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Crime of Silence by Patricia Carlon & The Unquiet Night by Patricia Carlon

December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

It is the fashion, when discussing Patricia Carlon’s thrillers, to claim that she has been shamefully ignored in her home country. So what? If Miss Carlon (1927–2002) had been a genius of the running track or swimming pool and couldn’t get a gig in the Australian Olympic team, that would be a scandal. But she was a writer. She was ignored. What else is new? What we really want to know is whether her thrillers are worth all the fuss. Do they deserve to be reissued after being out of print for many years?

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Justice is traditionally depicted blindfolded – fair game, one might think, for those who would stack her scales. If God sleeps, who looks out for His little ones in a system that increasingly values property above the person, and expediency above all? ... (read more)