Verve and dar­ing con­tinue in ni­hilis­tic roller-coaster

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Peter Pierce

The Glass King­dom By Chris Flynn Text Pub­lish­ing, 235pp, $29.99 IN his scin­til­lat­ing, episod­i­cally shock­ing, first novel, A Tiger in Eden (2012), Chris Flynn set down in Thai­land a Loy­al­ist on the run from the North­ern Ire­land po­lice and let this jux­ta­po­si­tion do its work of mayhem. He showed a mas­terly con­trol of the voice of Billy Mont­gomery, his anti-hero (as these char­ac­ters used to be called — now there is no other kind) and in the de­pic­tion of vi­o­lent ac­tion.

Flynn’s sec­ond novel, The Glass King­dom, shows no slack­en­ing of nar­ra­tive verve or dar­ing. Its first part is told by an­other hard man,

May 31-June 1, 2014 Cor­po­ral Ben­jamin Wal­lace, a vet­eran of the Afghan war, scarred in com­bat in Oruz­gan. Now he runs Tar­get Ball at ‘‘the un­pop­u­lar end of sideshow al­ley’’ in the trav­el­ling car­ni­val called the King­dom. This is the front for his deal­ing from the metham­phetamine labs that he runs along the east­ern seaboard. His de­struc­tive ca­reer has been em­barked on as an act of vengeance and of self-loathing.

Ben has no sym­pa­thy for those who pa­tro­n­ise the car­ni­val and buy his wares. ‘‘People hate each other in these god­for­saken places,’’ he pon­ders, but also thinks more gen­tly of how ‘‘I’d seen my fair share of weary people by the side of the road and be­hind the counter in din­ers and out the back of bars’’. He is also fa­mil­iar with ‘‘bored women drag­ging slouch­ing kids and un­em­ployed hus­bands around the stalls’’.

To take care of the Tar­get Ball busi­ness, Ben has hired a scrawny, cun­ning youth in an out­sized Fre­man­tle Dock­ers jumper called Mickey Demp­ster, whose rap name is Mekong Delta. Flynn bril­liantly gives rap lyrics to this hy­per­ac­tive fig­ure, of which a few lines can safely be quoted: ‘‘Join up wit NASA an’ fly to Venus/ Read the news on TV like An­ton Enus/Run away wit da cir­cus like Bai­ley an’ Bar­num/Or be­come a rock singer like Johnny Farn­ham.’’

The novel’s sec­ond nar­ra­tive voice is that of Zoltan, ‘‘Mas­ter of Elec­tric­ity’’, who has come a long way from the Rhondda Val­ley in Wales, and who now re­flects, re­signedly, on the con­se­quences of his act. His ap­pli­ca­tion of elec­trodes has left ‘‘the des­o­late field that now oc­cu­pies the place where my mem­ory used to be’’. He can still ex­plain the child­hood dam­age that has sent Benji — as he has known him since he was born in 1981 — on his present course.

The boy’s cruel fa­ther, the ‘‘re­pug­nant’’ Fran­cis, ran the Tar­get Ball con­ces­sion. His ne­glect­ful mother was Evalisse, tat­tooed strip­per and sword-swal­lower. Their abused child has be­come the harsh ex-sol­dier who now pen­sions them off, seizes the busi­ness and seems bent on in­flict­ing harm on oth­ers and him­self, al­beit with a fright­en­ing, wry de­tach­ment pe­ri­od­i­cally in­ter­rupted by vi­o­lent en­force­ment of his will. It is a per­haps per­verse tri­umph of Flynn’s art to make Ben the most sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter in his cast of hap­less vic­tims and cold-eyed preda­tors.

A large and ex­cit­ing share of the novel con­cerns Ben’s pur­suit of Mickey, who has stolen drug money and the aged Dat­sun of Ben’s girl­friend, Steph (whose work on the King­dom is ‘‘telling for­tunes and giv­ing mas­sages’’). The chase leads them across the blasted so­cial land­scape of north­ern NSW: meth labs, guard dogs

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