En­coun­ter­ing a shad­owy evil

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Anne Part­lon

AUS­TRALIA’S an­swer to Jodi Pi­coult tack­les the taboo sub­ject of child ab­duc­tion in this grim fa­ble for the mod­ern age. Through the Cracks re­volves around Adam, an il­lit­er­ate teen liv­ing in ap­palling cir­cum­stances in an other­wise re­spectable Mel­bourne sub­urb. For years he has been im­pris­oned in a cell-like back room by the man he thinks of as his fa­ther. Hid­den from the gaze of neigh­bours and call­ers, al­lowed out only on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, Adam is re­duced to peer­ing at the world through the cracks in the door, un­til the day he finds the phys­i­cal strength to turn the ta­bles on his age­ing cap­tor.

While he is won­der­ing what to do with his new-found free­dom, he meets Billy, an older, street-smart youth who turns up at the house on one of his reg­u­lar vis­its. It’s Billy who tells Adam that the old man, Joe, is not his fa­ther; Billy who per­suades him to leave the house af­ter Joe’s death, ap­par­ently (and ap­pro­pri­ately) from heart fail­ure.

Dur­ing their week-long odyssey through the seamier back streets of Mel­bourne, the two forge an un­likely friend­ship, with Billy ap­point­ing him­self Adam’s pro­tec­tor. But who is Adam? Why is Billy so eva­sive, and what is his con­nec­tion to Joe, Adam and the vi­cious Ko­vac, who seems to be the source of so much mis­ery? The dis­cov­ery of Joe’s body, the pe­cu­liar lay­out of his house, a dev­as­tat­ing fire and two vi­o­lent deaths pro­vide po­lice with clues to a no­to­ri­ous un­solved child ab­duc­tion. Through the Cracks By Honey Brown Michael Joseph, 298pp, $29.99

But will they be in time to save the lost boy at the cen­tre of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion? Wary of the au­thor­i­ties, Billy in­sists they lay low, but as the me­dia blitz gath­ers mo­men­tum it be­comes harder for them to elude de­tec­tion. One of them must step out of the shad­ows, but his re­cov­ery may cost the other his last chance at life.

As in her pre­vi­ous book, Dark Horse, Honey Brown’s lat­est novel fo­cuses on the ex­co­ri­at­ing ef­fects of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, in this case, child abuse. Sev­eral other el­e­ments re­cur: the in­ter­de­pen­dent re­la­tion­ship be­tween two cen­tral fig­ures, a fa­tal shoot­ing, en­dear­ing an­i­mals and Brown’s sig­na­ture flour­ish, the non-se­quen­tial plot. Typ­i­cally, her sto­ries start in the mid­dle of the ac­tion, and it is only much later that the of­ten calami­tous events pre­ced­ing the nar­ra­tive are re­vealed. Here, the open­ing scene, de­pict­ing the con­fronta­tion be­tween Joe and Adam, con­tains few clues to the re­la­tion­ship of the com­bat­ants and the cause of the con­flict.

As a sto­ry­telling de­vice, it is an ef­fec­tive lure, piquing the cu­rios­ity of read­ers and keep­ing them turn­ing the pages, even if most of them will have solved the mys­tery long be­fore the de­noue­ment. Less in­tri­cately plot­ted than its pre­de­ces­sor, it suf­fers at times from the strain of pro­long­ing the sus­pense.

Brown’s ob­ses­sion with scarred char­ac­ters who re­tain their es­sen­tial good­ness is an­other link to the ear­lier work. How­ever, there are in­ter­est­ing points of dif­fer­ence. Where the pre­vi­ous novel was set in coun­try Vic­to­ria, Through the Cracks is an ur­ban tale. Brown’s writ­ing style has also changed, with long, loosely con­structed sen­tences of the pre­vi­ous work giv­ing way to shorter, sharper, al­most terse state­ments.

Al­though this tighter syn­tax helps build ten­sion, its ef­fects are mod­i­fied by a lit­er­ary pref­er­ence for de­scrip­tion rather than anal­y­sis. There

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