Friday, 28 October 2016

Catch the Australian Crimewave

Jock Serong.
By Jock Serong

Why read Australian crime fiction? Because it’s going through a really interesting time. 
Crime fiction everywhere has a problem with derivation. Jaded cops, a city on the edge. Gimme your badge and your gun – you’re off the case. Don’t get me wrong: these tropes are highly functional: they’re overused because they’re known to pull readers through the pages. The problem is, they might summon the Chicago back alleys but they don’t speak for Ipswich, Geelong or Darwin.
You sent convicts over here so it’s natural we’d be sending crime writers back. And there’s a generation coming through who have abandoned the conventions in favour of something much more interesting: crime as an expression of the national mood. What the hell do I mean by that? It’s hard to describe but you know it when you see it. Peter Temple talking about corruption. Adrian Hyland dissecting our mining boom through the eyes of a female indigenous protagonist. Angela Savage, who specialises in south-east Asia, and has expertly tackled difficult aspects of our proximity to the region including sex tourism and adoption fraud.
I could go on and on: Barry Maitland on bikies, psychiatrist Anne Buist on bi-polar, and two excellent books that explore our epidemic levels of domestic violence: Anna George’s What Came Before, and Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident. Then there’s P.M. Newton’s book Beams Falling, which studies crime amongst the Vietnamese community in Sydney’s Cabramatta. Her first novel, The Old School, used a crime scene as a stunning metaphor for our history: the remains of Aboriginal activists, found in the footings of a building during demolition.
Everything in literature starts with the familiar and works its way out into unknown lands, and Australian crime fiction is no exception. The foundation stone in this country, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) was written by an Englishman and – I’ll be burned for heresy – it could’ve been set in London. Fast-forward a hundred years and Paul McLauren put the weapons and methods of modern white policing in the hands of an Aboriginal detective, subverting the lazy assumptions that had built up over a century. Indigenous writer Nicole Watson did likewise in The Boundary, as did Peter Docker with his devastating depiction of real events in Sweet One.
Available now.
We’re a society crammed into a narrow coastal fringe between enormous ocean and equally forbidding desert. And into that slender ribbon of greenery we’ve packed all our ambitions and insecurities and pretensions. People order New York-style loft apartments off the plan. Our gangsters pay cash for Lamborghinis and Harley Davidsons so they can cut frustrated laps of the cafĂ© district. Look at me, you pricks. And deep in our bones the whole bloody lot of us know we’re wobbling atop a pile of unanswered questions. Silences that have closed over our brutalising of the first Australians, our pretending there aren’t desperate refugees knocking on our door. Garry Disher says crime fiction is a barometer of social tensions, and nowhere is that statement truer than here.
I called it a national mood a moment ago and there’s a specific reason for that. I’m not saying everyone’s in a state of denial. If we were, we wouldn’t be seeing these books. In order to set ourselves up as an affluent modern society, Australians have been overlooking some grievous deeds and we know it. Our crime fiction is now looking over the overlooking.

:: Buy THE RULES OF BACK YARD CRICKET by Jock Serong on Amazon.