REVIEW: THORNYDEVILS BY TW LAWLESS

THORNYDEVILS

Author: TW Lawless
Campanile Publishing RRP $24.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

20494542The ability to deliver a distinctive urban Australian atmosphere is a strong point for Australian crime writer T.W. Lawless, a relatively new face in the genre. Set in Melbourne in 1989, his second novel Thornydevils takes crime reporter Peter Clancy into the dockyards, nightclubs and suburbs after a crime wave hints at turf wars, family feuds and police corruption.

Clancy is roused from complacent journalism when he is asked to deliver an investigative crime column as part of the Melbourne Truth’s bid to boost sales and credibility. Armed with a police scanner and paired up with seasoned investigative reporter, Stella, his hesitancy is quickly overruled when a series of deaths draw him into a sinister plot; he is forced to learn the hard way which of his sources he can trust, while battling his attraction to the lawyer for some of the situation’s key players.

Superficially, Clancy presents as a fairly stereotypical crime fiction protagonist. He drinks heavily, carries baggage from his past relationships, jumps from woman to woman … in all, he’s not the healthiest of individuals, nor does his character stand out greatly from other well-known crime fic protagonists in terms of being “damaged”. However, there’s a vulnerability about him that makes me reluctant to describe him as hardened or hardboiled – he’s not cynical enough, he shows his vulnerabilities (when he doesn’t want to), he’s a bit of a larrikin … he’s not really as tough as he wants people to think he is. It will be interesting to see how his character develops, whether this is early days and readers will slowly see Clancy harden up.

Australian cinema is often known for its larger-than-life characters and there are plenty of these in Thornydevils including drag queen Concheeta and her downtrodden drama queen partner – here Lawless shows the influence of his screen-writing and film-making studies. The same applies to the fast-paced nature of the story, jumping at times from scene to scene in a manner reminiscent of a TV police procedural. In general, the characterisation is at its best with the unpolished, raw characters – they’re recognisable as the down-to-earth, what-you-see-is-what-you-get characters inhabiting our daily lives. As a former journalist, who worked in a weekly newspapers well after the Internet and mobile phones were commonplace, I found the late ’80s newspaper world insight particularly interesting – and from the stories I’ve heard from other journalists, the description is a pretty good match.

Some nasty characters, the murky setting and themes of corruption, drug trade and sexual domination amp up the grit factor, but Lawless stops short of gory description. The elements are there for an entertaining crime read that is bound to appeal to viewers of shows like Underbelly. For me, the Australian feel (setting and characters) was the stand-out, with the other elements not quite having the edge, tension or depth I’d have liked, but overall, I think Lawless is on his way to being a crime writer to watch.

Available from good bookstores and Campanile Publishing. This copy was courtesy of Quikmark Media.

Bookish treat: Seems like a pie and chips could be a bonza match for this one.