He's one new to you furriners

Hello all

Here’s one most of your furriners won’t have encountered. Genre is crime mystery/mild thriller kind of thing, author is Shane Maloney, his latest is Sucked in.

This is a bloke in Melbourne, Oz, writing stories set in Melbourne, Oz. The protagonist is Murray Whelan, a child of the late 50s/early 60s, who in the earlier books is an Australian Labor* Party (ALP) apparatchik, and in Sucked in has risen to be an ALP member of the upper house in the bicameral Victorian State Parliament (the second tier of government in Oz). He’s also the single (divorced) father of a late teens high school student. The book, set in the late 1990s, opens at the funeral of a much respected ALP member of the Australian Federal Parliament (the top tier of government) whose electorate overlaps Murray’s in the northern suburbs of Melbourne – working class, ethnically diverse, ALP stronghold.

It transpires that the dead member had a fatal heart attack right in front of Murray while leisurely reading the papers after breakfast during a visit to a country centre, Mildura. Then some old bones are found, there’s a link back to the dead bloke and a couple of other luminaries and a very young Murray, all through linkages in the unions back in the 1970s. So we have Murray solving what might be a murder mystery, while doing stuff to protect his ALP elders, and at the same time, involved in the preselection process for a replacement for the dead MP, all told with lots of in and out jokes and tongue in cheek.

Malone is a fluent, funny writer who has the ability to invent colloquialisms – he uses colloquialisms but he can also roll out an original phrase or clause which you know is not actually a colloquialism but it simply fits, it sounds right, and when you read it you know exactly what he means.

His observation is acute and the needle of his irreverent writing is as sharp as that.

Murray reflects at the grave side:

Even in death Charlie had civic obligations. And so it was here in Coburg cemetery, ceremonial burial site of the electorate he had represented for almost twenty years, that his mortal remains were interred. Here, cheek-by-jowl with the district’s other deceased dignitaries, a hundred and fifty years of extinct aldermen and mouldering worthies. I suspected Charlie would find them dull company. Not that he was any too lively himself anymore.
Still, he had a pretty good view.
Melbourne is a city of many inclinations but very few hills. Its norther suburbs are almost unremittingly flat but the cemetery occupied the slope of a low ridge, screened from six lanes of traffic by a row of feathery old cypresses, so even the slight rise of the bone yard offered a rare vantage point. To the west stood the grim shell of Pentridge prison, a crane jutting from its innards. The old bluestone college was currently being made over into luxury apartment and B Division, home of the hardened, would soon be equipped for designer living. A gated community of the new kind, vendor finance available."

Recounting to two of Charlie’s old friends the story of how Charlie died, Murray says:

‘First thing next morning, the rest of the team took the early plane back to Melbourne. Charlie and I were booked on the noon flight, so we had time for a leisurely breakfast.’
Poor Charlie, under doctor’s instructions to watch his weight, had settled for the fresh fruit compote. If only he had known it was his last meal, he’d probably have ordered the lamb’s fry and bacon.
‘We were taking our time over coffee and newspapers when he started to make groaning noises. … Then suddenly the paper cascaded to the floor and he was clawing at his collar. He’d gone all all pale and clammy and his eyes were bulging out of his head. Heart attack. Cardiogenic shock.’
Despite repeated tellings, I still didn’t quite believe it myself.
‘What paper?’ asked Bishop, pushing his glassed up his nose, avid for detail.
‘The Herald Sun.’ (Melbourne’s Murdoch tabloid.)
‘Can have that effect,’ nodded Quinlan. ‘Although it’s rarely fatal.’

In the pre-selection process, one contender, Mike, is discussing his chances with Murray:

‘I’d say you’ll be pushing shit uphill,’ I said. ‘It’s obviously a done deal.’
‘Even so,’ Mike said. ‘It’s a matter of principle.’
Principle. The weeping scab of the Australian Labor Party.

I’ve read a couple of Malone’s previous Murray Whelan books and liked the easy reading, the wonderful observation, and the readiness to puncture balloons which are normally presented as holy cows. However, I have felt that after starting out well, the books have tailed off in the second half. Not so with Sucked in. The main plot isn’t byzantine and the action isn’t hugely dramatic, but it holds up well to the end, and the sub-plots are nicely concluded too with sufficient loose ends in place for further books in the future.

A couple of days before reading this, I was in Queens Hall at Victoria’s Parliament House for the launch of a book which I’ll mention a bit later, when it has overseas availability in place. If only I’d read Sucked in beforehand, I would have been viewing the surroundings, and one exit in particular, in quite a different way.

  • Australian spelling generally is UK English. Labor is spelt that way in the ALP’s name because when the party was first formed, and for many years thereafter, spelling reform with slightly simplified spelling along American lines, was part of its platform. After 50 years or so, that was dropped, but the spelling of the party’s name remains as a quirky reminder of a laudatory ambition. A further 50 years or so on, spelling reform is coming to us anyway through the dominance of US culture and the ubiquity and might of the internet and Macro$**t Weird’s defaults.

Cheers, Geoff

Geoffrey Heard, Business Writer & Publisher

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I intended to reply to this earlier, but I couldn’t at the time and forgot about it.

I have read all of Shane Maloney’s books. I actually very rarely read until his first book, and he is the one that got me back into reading, and made me want to write (I guess he is to me as Vonnegut was to Keith).

Having said that… I was actually a little disappointed in his last book. It was still good, I just thought the previous one was better. To me, Something Fishy was his best, followed by The Brush-Off.

Matt