Posts filed under ‘crime’

THE SLAUGHTER OF ST THERESA’S DAY by Peter Kenna

 We had a lot of fun doing a read through of this play at bookgroup. Reading it aloud to each other, with everyone taking a character, was such a different experience from reading it alone as a book. It was quite a revelation. The characters were more alive, they were funnier, the whole thing was a much more vibrant experience.

The book is a short play based on the real life character of tilly devine (see backstory and pics), a famous female underworld figure from the 30s to the 60s in sydney. Apparently Peter Kenna wrote, the “Slaughter of St Theresa’s day” in the front room of pete’s house. so obviously bookgroup was held there, which added to the appeal.

With the title and the subject matter i was expecting the usual collection of stuff about snappy, suits, sly grog and brothels, as portrayed in the recent TV series that dramatised her life. Surprisingly the story is actually more a study of a dysfunctional family. It takes place over one 24 hour period when the tilly character’s daughter arrives home from boarding school for her mum’s annual st theresa’s day party. unfortunately a young ‘jack the lad’ type character, recently out of jail and completely unreformed, also arrives. things go downhill from there.

However, the violence isn’t portrayed and its not at all clear that the deaths and so on are linked to gangland turf wars, or dodgy deals gone wrong. The play turns out not to be about any of that. It is much more about what it was like to live in a community of very impulsive, honour obsessed, irish descended catholics in mid 20th century sydney.

It felt like a window into a personality type, and a culture, that we middle class 21st century sydney bookgrouper’s dont see much any more, but haven’t quite forgotten. Perhaps it is also a window into the mindset that is still created today in males from some cultures, where honour and impulsiveness are still valued more highly than control and moderation and tolerance.

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February 16, 2013 at 6:50 am Leave a comment

TRUTH by PETER TEMPLE

Truth by Peter Temple is the 2010 Miles Franklin Award Winner and a crime novel. These are two things that can rarely be said about 1 book, which suggests there might be something special about this work.

but if that’s the case, it eluded most bookgroupers, at least for the 1st half of the book. many of us struggled with the cliched, emotionless, tougher than tough exchanges, both between cops, and between the lead character and everyone else in his life.

Bookgroupers that were familiar with the genre said one of two things: either the work created nothing new in terms of the style of the genre, or the book was not typical of the genre. i’m not sure we resolved this seemingly irreconcilable difference of opinion.

despite these shortcomings, many of us did get into the book by the 2nd half. The upside that slowly drew me in to the book was partly the politics, partly the lead character and partly the multiple story lines.

As someone that gets to see the interaction between the bureaucracy and politics in state government i thought the portrayal of politics and the upper echelons of the police force really rang true.

Similarly, i loved the fact the lead character, vilani, was far from perfect. he was a workaholic, inexcusably absent father, which is what you have to be to get to the upper echelons of any big bureaucracy. i found that a welcome relief from the ridiculous – incorruptible tough guys with hearts of gold – that you usually see in hollywood, and tv, crime fiction. For me, this is where the title comes from. The book tells the truth about the lead protagonist, vilani, rather than painting him as some kind of stainless hero.

Bookgroupers familiar with the genre agreed on one point – the whodunnit issue was not the main focus of the novel. I think that is true, and might be why i liked book in the end. the crime aspect of the novel was more like the background and against which the real drama, the private life of vilani, took place. nevertheless, the crime story that was told did ring true, it wasnt overly glamourous or full of super-villains, it seemed very believable.

On the other hand, the ending was a bit saccharine and anything but believable. However, i was pleased with it because it was neat and fairly happy so it left me with a feeling of satisfaction about the experience of reading the book.

On balance i’d recommend it to crime fiction readers, but if, like me, you are not a crime fiction reader i’d say it does not justify a diversion in to unfamiliar territory.

March 20, 2011 at 5:51 am Leave a comment


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