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The great Aussie (crime) story

This year I’ve taken it upon myself to read as much local crime fiction (with the odd true crime book thrown in) as I can. Not because I feel I have to – that’s what I’m writing after all – but because it’s bloody ripping stuff (said in the tone of Alf Stewart). Local stories, local places and home-grown hero’s. There are so many local authors making debuts on the crime fiction scene that it’s almost impossible not to pick up a Aussie novel among the four million others that line the bookshelves at every bookshop or supermarket. Delve even deeper and you’ll find a host of independent authors with cracking local yarns.

A.B Patterson’s ‘Harry’s World’ is a perfect example. Good old detective noir story involving protagonist Harry Kenmare, a busted-ass former cop turned private investigator. Set in and around the inner city Sydney suburbs, Harry (who has a liking for Jamesons Whisky, cigarettes and women) gets into all sorts of trouble helping his clients out of many a sticky situation. And with undertones of corruption, Patterson captures the murky world of the inner-west whilst entertaining readers with Harry’s exploits. From twin prostitutes to corrupt senior police and politicians with breast-sucking fetishes, Harry’s World is a wild ride.

Debut novelist Andy Muir’s ‘Something for Nothing’ (published by Affirm Press) is another example of fantastic home-grown crime fiction. Set in Newcastle, protagonist Lachie Munro (not a cop or ex-cop, but an unlikely crook) stumbles across a haul of heroin while fishing illegally for abalone. When he also finds a torso floating near Nobby’s Beach, all eyes are upon him. His adventures trying to offload the drugs, including dodging those trying to get them back, mirror the exploits of 80’s literary hero Les Norton.

Norton, bought to life in 1985 by Robert G. Barrett, was the main character in 20 novels beginning with ‘You wouldn’t be dead for quids.’ Norton was the quintessential Aussie larrikin – born in Dirranbandi and moving to Kings Cross – who loved nothing more than ‘ a fight, a punt or a root.’ Sadly, Barrett died from bowel cancer in 2012, but he managed to sell over a million books and undoubtedly had a lasting influence on local crime fiction. For me, Barrett’s books were the start of my love affair with local stories.

Australian crime fiction resonates because readers can put themselves in the story. Place is an essential element and regarded as a character itself. Whether it be the inner suburbs of Sydney, Newcastle, Noosa or the outback, readers can imagine themselves there. I guess that’s why I find these types of stories so appealing. Not to say made up places don’t set good scenes (Jane Harper’s ‘The Dry’ for example) but there’s something to be said for realism in place and character.

My debut novel ‘Bordertown’ (due out late 2017) is heavily set in place and era. The tale of a broken young detective outcast to the remote posting of Boggabilla/Goondiwindi, it explores corruption and racism of the early 1980’s. Not quite Les Norton (more the Aussie version of Harry Bosch), I can only hope it appeals to those with an interest in realistic character and place fiction.

I’d love to hear about any other Australian focused crime fiction. I just can’t get enough of it!


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