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ABBEY’S BOOKSELLER PICK
—— From page one it was clear this was going to be an Abbey’s Bookseller Pick
, with its elegant prose combined with pointed barbs and acute observations. The wit and venom with which Ray Saint, the literary critic narrator at the centre of the mystery, conveys his jaundiced world view is thoroughly entertaining.
There are touchstones of the noir crime genre - the femme fatale, the beaten-down, alcohol-dependent ‘detective’ and the first-person narrative. The inventiveness of language, mystery and pace make this a first-class literary tale of a bloke who is battling to clear himself as a suspect in a murder. If Julian Barnes turned his arm at the crime genre, it may well have come out like this.
It makes me smile to place this action among Sydney’s literary personalities although, despite a strapline saying "A deliciously nasty slice of antipodean noir - a crime novel set in Sydney's media and publishing world", there is scant reference to Australia or Sydney. This is not a criticism - this ‘anywhere’ aspect may help this excellent novel deservedly find readers worldwide.
If you do read this and like it, take a moment to also consider the following similarly clever, fresh and pacy novels: The Truth and Other Lies
; The Trap
; Black Teeth
; Winter Traffic
"By forty you're meant to have the face you deserve. I got the face early. It took me a while to earn it. I believe I am finally there."
Ray Saint is the most reviled literary critic in Australia: a hatchet-man with an unpublished novel in his bottom drawer and a finely-honed bullshit detector.
After being visited by Jade Howe, a marketing assistant at a respected publishing house - a woman who dangles the possibility of sex with him in return for a rave review for her latest discovery - he falls head over heels. When, soon after, she turns up dead - murdered by a person or persons unknown - Ray is not only broken, he is the prime suspect.
Detective Jack Lewin has few doubts about Ray's guilt. Neither, it seems, does the press, who hound Ray's every step. Meanwhile, his vapid editor has temporarily stood him down from reviewing. It will be up to Ray alone to find the man responsible for Jade's murder.
Could it be something to do with the plan she boasted about to him - a plan to create a great Australian novelist out of a mediocre manuscript and a shallow front-man? Or could Jade's death have something to with the bestselling popular historian with the criminal past and the harbour-side home.
As a battered and bloodied Ray investigates more deeply, he is obliged to face the fact that his drinking has reached the point where blackouts make up more of his days than lucid hours. The truth is, he can't be entirely sure that the killer wasn't him.
"My favourite Australian literary critic, David Free instantly becomes my favourite Australian author of psychological thrillers, with this gripping tale of a literary man thoroughly screwed up by sexually intriguing women and crazy editors. Free is far too civilised for this kind of thing, which is probably why he's so disturbingly good at doing it." Clive James
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