Scribe Publications, 2004
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
It’s 1942 and Australians are beginning to feel the full effects of the
war. The Japanese are advancing ever further south and in Europe the
battle of Stalingrad is raging. Food rationing is coming into effect in
Enter William Power, founder of the Power Players, a third rate theatre
group which is touring country Queenslander bringing culture and
Shakespeare (or a form of it) to the country hicks.
Power’s troupe is a rag tag bunch of misfits. There’s Tibald Canty, the
gourmet cook, a good actor but limited by his 300lb size; the improbably
named Arthur Rank who lost an arm in an accident with a threshing machine
some years earlier; Adrian Baden is an openly gay man who is ineligible
for military service by virtue of his flat feet, and then there’s Kevin
Skakel, an appallingly bad actor with a club foot, who is the only male in
the troupe willing to wear women’s clothes for his art. Bill Henty is
blind in one eye, Walter Sunder is sixty-five years old and ready for
retirement, and then there’s the “star” Annie Hudson, who looks like Greer
Garson in certain lights and is known as the girl in the Colgate and
Tampax ads you find in magazines.
Not a group of actors truly worthy of Will’s talent -- according to Will,
anyway. Will is a man with a superiority complex. No one is as smart, as
talented or as insightful as Will. From the lofty heights of his
intellect, he looks down on all lesser mortals. His current project is to
bring a “challenging new take” on Titus Andronicus to the
unsuspecting populace of Maryborough in Queensland. But are they ready for
Titus Andronicus minus the title character and with the males in
the troupe wearing only posing pouches?
GOOD MURDER opens with the troupe’s arrival in Maryborough. They’ve struck
a deal with the owner of a local hotel. In return for discount
accommodation, Tibald will act as chef and the troupe will wait tables.
While Will is working on the script for Titus Andronicus, one of
the young women of the town, Polly Drummond makes a beeline for him. Will
takes this attention as his due. After all, is he not incredibly good
looking, talented and smart? Well, no, actually, but Will has an amazing
capacity for self-delusion.
The day after Will spends the evening with Polly and has an unfortunate
encounter with her demented mother, Polly disappears. Her body is
discovered five days later floating in the water tower – the town’s major
water supply. Much to his horror, Will realises that as the last known
person to see Polly alive, he’s the main suspect in her death. He decides
to put the record straight and investigate, but his every step sinks him
deeper in to the mire as more deaths occur.
GOOD MURDER is not a book without flaws. The use of language and attitudes
seem to be more a reflection of contemporary society than that of 1942.
The book itself is at times almost Shakespearean in its action and drama,
and some of the situations are just a little contrived. Will’s penchant
for getting things wrong is just a little too consistent to keep the
reader guessing much. And his lack of insight into those around him
becomes a little predictable.
However, despite this, I found myself warming to Will and liking him for
his ineptitude and complete lack of insight into himself and others. The
cast of characters are colourful and entertaining, and the author has a
flair for description that paints comprehensive mental images. The opening
paragraph of the book is a fine example of this:
”The water tower in Maryborough sat on the corner of Adelaide and Anne
Streets. It held one million gallons of water and, for two weeks in August
1942, it also held the body of a 24-year-old woman named Polly Drummond.
Afterwards it was impossible not to be appalled by the realisation that
each time we drank a cup of tea we were imbibing Polly Drummond, and that
each time we took a bath we were splashing ourselves with Polly Drummond.
As she slowly dissolved up there, bloating and exuding the corrupt gases
and liquids of the dead, we in the town strained her through our teeth,
gargled her, washed our hair with her, and imbedded her in the very
clothes we wore.”
I don’t know if Robert Gott is planning on making the character of Will
Power into an ongoing series. If he is, then I have doubts about whether
the idea is sustainable. As a one off book, though, GOOD MURDER is a jolly
good read and a lot of fun.
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