Recommendation: Oh absolutely, before or after watching the film
Where to read: This is classic weekend, read-in-one-session material
Read with: Tooheys Extra Dry
In brief: This is that rarest of things, genuinely excellent Australian crime fiction. It has also led to that even rarer of things, a damn fine Australian movie.
I decided to see the film with a friend and thought I might as well read the book before going. I got about half way through before the movie and then finished it off when I got home that evening. The film is that rarest of things – genuinely excellent Australian cinema. Eric Bana gives a fantastic performance, the rest of the cast holds up well and the cinematography superbly conveys the devastating effect of the drought on the landscape. The book is better, but its a close run thing.
Harper’s real gift here is for imagery and sense of place, both in her ability to convey the devastatingly barren landscape and the heartrending tragedy which opens the novel. There is one image right at the start which is particularly impactful – that of a child sized coffin painted in the colours of the boy’s football team sitting between the caskets of his parents. The opening also presents a beautifully nuanced picture of the aftermath of horrendous domestic violence, the mental health crisis which has long gripped rural communities and the conflicted nature of grief for those left behind (Helen Garner eat your heart out).
Aaron Falk is an interesting main character – slightly blank in some respects and taciturn generally, with a clear sense of loneliness and isolation mixed in – but he becomes more interesting as his personal history becomes clearer. There is also a delightful buddy cop dynamic which develops with the local sergeant, providing much needed levity.
The eventual denouement is perhaps not the strongest but I really didn’t mind – the appeal of crime fiction for me has never been in “the twist” as long as the ultimate conclusion feels satisfying, and I think it does here. Even if it had not been, it is so well written and Kiewarra so vividly imagined that it would be worth reading regardless, as a way of remembering the devastating impacts of drought if nothing else.