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Ben Smith

In 2013, Matthew Condon published Three Crooked Kings, the first in his true crime series delving into the murky, sordid, and often brutal world of police corruption in Queensland.  That year, he wrote in Australian Book Review that, after finishing his trilogy,  he planned to ‘swan dive into the infinitely more comfortable genre of fiction’ ...

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‘Buffalo Bill and the Psychiatrist’, ‘The Story of Little-Path and Marcus Kellogg’, ‘Zorro the Chess Master’: the playful titles of Power’s stories appear to belie the seriousness of his concerns. There is light and whimsy in this collection, but how much lies beneath the surface?

Power’s stories skip from Papua to digital worlds, the Wild West to contemporary Melbourne. For all their diverse settings, however, many read as if the events are floating in empty space rather than nailed down by concrete details. Furthermore, the exotic backdrops can feel arbitrary. The orphan protagonist of ‘She Calls Her Boy Amazing’ could be growing up almost anywhere – Vietnam plays no role in either the dramatic or thematic development of the story. Often the settings in Meatloaf in Manhattan seem inconsequential, like a garnish rather than part of the meal.

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'Fields of Vision’, the first story of Abbas El-Zein’s collection, introduces us to a world in which tragedy is swift and often arbitrary, and if not arbitrary, at least stems from motivations so obscure as to appear so. The sniper protagonist of this story, perched atop his Beirut rooftop, picks off citizens at random, revelling in his having ‘a place in their lives’. He sits outside society and is yet an inherent part of it. This is true of all El-Zein’s protagonists, at once divorced from their various cultures and vitally connected with them. Their actions are both reactions against and definitions of the worlds from which they stem.

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