Australia is a nation chiselled from its indigenous inhabitants for and by criminals. Our anthem kicks off by celebrating that most of us have since been released on our own recognisance. It’s hard to think of another country where malefactors are such rock stars – sure, English Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs made it onto a Sex Pistols’ cover, but I’d like to see him front Ned Kelly or Chopper Read in a prison exercise yard. With the intriguing Australian characters who share their stories in Crime Factory’s new anthology, Hard Labour, we all have more reason to rejoice.
Book-ended by smash-hit stories by two greats of Australian crime fiction, Gary Disher and Peter Corris, the guts of this selection need no propping up. Leigh Redhead’s “Grassed” is an authentic slice of the Northern NSW hash brownie, featuring her trademark pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and a sense of creeping paranoia resonant with the context. In “Killing Peacocks”, Angela Savage’s signature lyricism sings the murder ballad of an authentic, empathic character. Andrew Prentice builds a world as crystalline – and as empty – as the breakers his characters surf, in “The Break”. In Helen FitzGerald’s “Killing Mum And Dad” cosy, slightly addled domesticity chills to horror. JJ DeCeglie’s “Death Cannot Be Delegated” features a philosophical hit man wielding Occam’s razor, style cunningly morphing to reflect both narrative and character arc. With sparse economy, David Whish-Wilson depicts a career criminal and junkie as cold as the Ice he cooks – “In Savage Freedom”. Andrew Nette’s “Chasing Atlantis”, where crims take on cultists in hippy country, is a bar-room brawl of Australian noir where the twists will king-hit you if you don’t watch your back.
The individual contributions to Hard Labour are unified by Australian flavour and realism – and the recurrent theme of stuffing up. Narrators tell their stories: some in the clear dispassionate tones of hardened Narcotics Anonymous confessors, others in deceptively breezy voices or pleading laments. They draw the reader closer before slipping a knife between their ribs, with a smirk, a wisecrack or a gentle kiss.
Jittery and seductive as a strung-out whore, Hard Labour is highly recommended. Sampled one at a time or devoured in chunks, I’m sure you’ll want to book repeat visits with these characters. Now available from Amazon, here.
If you’re not already addicted to these talented authors’ longer forms, check out their rap sheets here: http://www.thecrimefactory.com/