Reviewer: Gideon Haigh
Mark Brandi’s Wimmera is hot property. Highly commended in the unpublished manuscripts category of the Victorian Premier’s Awards, it beat strong competition to secure the first-fiction Debut Dagger of the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association. For Australian readers it will seem less exotic, set in Stawell in the late 1980s then in 2006, although Brandi writes effectively of the torpor of a country town, the rites of adolescent passage, the mysteries of adult taciturnity. There is menace at every step as boyhood friends Ben Carver and Fabrizio Morressi are circled by sexual predator Ron Bellamy – there is something here of David Peace’s Red Riding quartet in the pall of suppressed depravity and the effect of geographic isolation. Brandi understands teenage sensibilities – in particular the way Ben’s erotic fascination with Fab’s mother Eva, and his volatile, dawning sexuality, makes it easier for Ron to groom him. Fab’s relationship with his sadistic father proves likewise debilitating. Ron is more your routine monster – a missed opportunity perhaps.
The boys’ revenge and its consequences are less effectively handled, and reduce the novel to the level of mundane crime and legal procedural. There is a flinching around detail. One awaits a twist to no avail. Three of Brandi’s brothers are constabulary, and he successfully simulates the to-and-fro of a police interview, leading us back through layers of memory. But the elongated court scenes seem to belong in another novel, and it all rather peters out. That said, it is a promising debut. If Brandi can find another similarly evocative setting, his next novel could be formidable.
Reviewed by: Mr Gideon Haigh, Journalist and Author
Gideon Haigh has been a journalist since 1984, contributed to more than 100 newspapers and magazines, written thirty-four books and edited seven others. His most recent book is An Eye on Cricket (2017) His next book, A Scandal in Bohemia: The Life and Death of Mollie Dean will be published in April 2018.