Bantam

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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What is it that so fascinates us about lost children? Whether fact or fiction, their stories keep surfacing: Azaria Chamberlain, Jaidyn Leskie, the Beaumont children, or the schoolgirls Joan Lindsay dreamed up for her 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock. Indeed, those girls have wafted through so many subsequent incarnations ...

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Disco Boy by Dominic Knight

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June 2009, no. 312

Dominic Knight’s début novel chronicles a life on hold. Its narrator, Paul Johnson, is a twenty-five-year-old law graduate from Sydney University. Single and living off his parents, he detests his job as a mobile DJ, yet also loathes the prospect of working in a legal firm like his friend, Nige, whose life ‘is a corporate T-shirt saying “work hard, play hard”’. Paul’s comic struggles to overcome indecision and inertia shape the narrative, and the inner-city culture of Sydney’s young professionals provide its backdrop.

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The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer by Paul Barry & Who Killed Channel 9? by Gerald Stone

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November 2007, no. 296

Until recently, more Australians got their news and information from Channel Nine than from any other single source. For nearly thirty years, what Gerald Stone describes as ‘Kerry Packer’s mighty tv dream machine’ was the dominant force in Australian media and popular culture. Channel Nine was, as its promos used to say, ‘The One’.

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What’s a nice girl called Anastasia doing in the Whangpoa River? Maybe she’s the daughter of the last tsar who everyone thought was dead, or maybe it’s just a girl who looks like a Russian princess and happens to have the same name. If the proposition sounds familiar, be assured by Colin Falconer that Anastasia Romanovs were thick on the streets of Shanghai after the White Russian diaspora of 1917–18.

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These three memoirs share central focus on fathers: Gaby Naher’s is a meditation on fatherhood, Shirley Painter’s is about surviving an abusive one, while Cliff Nichols’s relates his life as an alcoholic and unreliable parent. They are also all part of the current flood of life-writing appearing from Australian publishing houses. Drusilla Modjeska, writing recently about the failings of contemporary fiction, argued that creative writing courses since the 1980s have produced a spate of postmodern first novels that were ‘tricksy and insubstantial’, deconstructing narrative at the expense of well-developed plots and characters. These courses may also account for much of the current memoir boom, feeding the demands of our voyeuristic culture. But publishers have a responsibility to readers to tame the genre’s self-revelatory excesses.

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The Dragon Man by Garry Disher & Black Tide by Peter Temple

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May 1999, no. 210

Over the years, Garry Disher has made his considerable reputation as a crime novelist on the strength of his taciturn, emotionless, lone wolf criminal, Wyatt. It seems Wyatt has taken some sabbatical, or maybe he’s just lying low, planning his next heist, because The Dragon Man showcases all new characters in a new setting. Instead of a gritty, underworld perspective we have a law-enforcement point of view, mainly per medium of Inspector Hal Challis, whose beat is the Mornington Peninsula beachside area outside Melbourne.

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McDonald’s latest novel, Rough Wallaby, carves out a fascinating position in contemporary literature: an intricately constructed, fast paced yam drawing its narrative from a contemporary Australian myth, the Fine Cotton race horse switch. The intriguing aspect of Wallaby is that it makes no pretence at anything but a great big yam. The yam in Australia is in a position of disgrace, not among readers, but in the academic-critical club. The story is no longer literature, it seems. There have to be other surreptitious elements recognized and codified by the literary fraternity.

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