Encountering a shadowy evil
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