Am­be­lin Kway­mul­lina & Ezekiel Kway­mul­lina Catch­ing Teller Crow

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

Am­be­lin Kway­mul­lina and Ezekiel Kway­mul­lina are a sis­ter-and-brother team of Abo­rig­i­nal writ­ers who come from the Pa­lyku peo­ple of the Pil­bara re­gion of West­ern Aus­tralia. Catch­ing Teller Crow isn’t their first col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort, but it is their first young-adult novel. A fu­sion of ghost story and crime thriller, it also com­bines po­etry and fic­tion to strik­ing and ex­cit­ing ef­fect.

As in the 2015 BBC minis­eries River, Catch­ing Teller Crow presents us with a de­tec­tive who is ac­com­pa­nied by the ghost of his polic­ing part­ner – though here the de­tec­tive, Michael Teller, is ac­com­pa­nied by the ghost of his teenage daugh­ter, Beth, who was killed in a car ac­ci­dent. In fact, “Beth Teller. Ghost-De­tec­tive”, as she de­scribes her­self, is one of the novel’s nar­ra­tors. The other nar­ra­tor is Iso­bel Catch­ing, a wit­ness to the crime the Tell­ers at­tempt to solve.

That crime in­volves a fire at a chil­dren’s home, but the mys­tery of ar­son soon de­vel­ops into a plot in­volv­ing dis­ap­pear­ances, drugs, mur­der and darker things still. Beth, how­ever, is spared a lot of the gory de­tails – as is the in­tended YA au­di­ence – as Beth’s pro­tec­tive fa­ther for­bids her from en­ter­ing crime scenes. Po­etry also plays a shield­ing role. Iso­bel’s eye­wit­ness tes­ti­mony is pre­sented in the form of po­etry, pro­vid­ing a su­per­nat­u­ral ac­count of her ex­pe­ri­ences, which Beth un­der­stands lit­er­ally but which Beth’s fa­ther in­ter­prets as an al­le­gor­i­cal ver­sion of the crimes that have oc­curred in the real world.

The chap­ters of po­etry are set in a “be­neath-place”, where Iso­bel is dragged by “The Fetch­ers” and of­fered up to “The Feed”. She also in­ter­acts with the mys­te­ri­ous and am­biva­lent Crow. Iso­bel com­pares her ex­pe­ri­ence to the tri­als of her grand­mother, who was also stolen and im­pris­oned “in a bad place”, as part of the Stolen Gen­er­a­tion, so that the po­etic ac­count of the “be­neath-place” res­onates his­tor­i­cally as well.

Dorothy Porter’s crime verse novel

The Mon­key’s Mask is an in­ter­est­ing point of com­par­i­son, given the ways it sim­i­larly high­lights the prob­lem of read­ing po­etry as cen­tral to the task of re­solv­ing mys­tery.

The po­etry in both books is also sim­i­larly ac­ces­si­ble, Gothic in tone, nar­ra­tive driven and fast paced. If any­thing, the pages turn more quickly when it comes to the po­ems than when it comes to the prose, but as Michael’s de­tec­tive work sug­gests, slow­ing down and at­tend­ing to the imag­is­tic and metaphor­i­cal rich­ness of the lan­guage is cer­tainly worth­while. KN

Allen & Un­win, 208pp, $19.99

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