Review: River of Salt, Dave Warner

‘I’ve made some enquiries on your behalf. Shaloub’s bodyguard is a giant, name of Granite. Granite’s no professor but he remembers absolutely every piece of tail set foot in the Cross.’
You might already know Dave Warner’s name. He’s an Australian musician who’s authored three previous crime novels, one of which won the Ned Kelly Award.
He was recently in Perth to promote his latest book, River of Salt, and I picked up a copy to see what all the fuss was about – I hadn’t actually heard of Dave Warner myself, but I do love Australian fiction and crime fiction, and I was intrigued by the jacket quote from prolific thriller writer Michael Robotham: ‘Part Goodfellas and part love letter to Australian coastal towns, this wonderfully imagined crime novel is like riding the perfect wave.’
It’s 1961 and Blake Saunders, a former Mob hitman from Philadelphia, has escaped that life to start again in a sleepy town on Australia’s east coast. He owns his own bar, the Surf Shack, plays in a band and surfs compulsively, slowly washing clean the sins of his past. But he can never quite lose the feeling there’s a target on his back.
So when a prostitute is brutally murdered in a nearby motel and a piece of evidence at the scene points towards the Surf Shack, Blake feels compelled to act, to clear the wolf from his door once and for all by solving the murder the police seem eager just to tick a box on.
I’m attracted to the writing early – it’s strong and clean and loaded with evocative similes. Like,
skies grey as an elephant’s belly.
And,
The wind probed their clothes like the fingers of a dead man.
And,
His belly pressed flat into the board, which gently rose and fell like a crumb on the chest of a snoozing giant.
And,
He moved quietly as cancer.
If similes don’t excite you as much as they do me you’re a fool, but I’ll tell you more anyway.
Warner spends the early part not launching straight into the mystery, but sketching out a compelling cast of characters who hook you just as well as a bloodied corpse opener would:
Blake, a brooding heartthrob with a dark past and a killer’s instincts, full of guilt and regret. His yardboy Andy, a simple sap who loves the fish in The Surf Shack’s giant tank, and knows them all by name. Bar manager Doreen, beautiful and capable, but nursing a deep loneliness. Crane the beach bum, an alcoholic and a poet. Kitty the innocent, but smart and gutsy teen who wants so much more than what her hometown can offer.
The scene shift from Philly to Australia makes for an attention-grabbing contrast, and the menace and darkness of the Mob bleeds into the new setting quite perfectly. I had wondered how convincing it was going to be, the American fish out of water, but the details laced through are perfect, consistent and never overdone.
And 100 pages in, this simmering mystery comes to a rolling boil, with twist after twist keeping me wildly speculating, heightened in drama by Blake’s personal drive for a solution – and for absolution.
Blake is bound to appeal to readers: the man with dark stains on his conscience, but a moral imperative to act, and a strong sense of justice. Like Jack Reacher, but with a humanising longing for love and redemption.
Perhaps he should have let it go, left it to Harvey to get it right. But he couldn’t … He did not deserve any of this: playing his guitar in his own bar with a beautiful woman like Doreen working alongside him, surfing in the crystal ocean, watching the sun rise like a gold coin over a sheet of pure silver. He’d suspected all along it hadn’t just been gifted to him, that there must be more to it, some fine print like on a winning lottery ticket. This was the fine print. You have to help those who can’t help themselves, you have to protect and serve those who serve you.
Warner has strongly evoked a time and a place; but he has also riffed on honesty, human connection, guilt and love – and how the past will never, really, quite let you go.
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Eight years to write a plan, as battles build to war for Perth bush

Hundreds, if not thousands, of emails have poured into my inbox over recent years from distressed residents begging me to help them save this or that bit of bushland. Not a week goes by without another one.

Battles have raged in Shenton Park, Midvale, Bayswater, Trigg, Cockburn, Kenwick and Ascot, to mention just a handful, and together these battles represent a war.

Just a few of the protests in Perth over the past couple of years.
Just a few of the protests in Perth over the past couple of years.

People are worried and depressed about the state of the biodiversity that has always been Perth’s genuine claim to fame.

And anyone who’s ever tried to deal with the Perth’s environmental approvals and planning system, whether trying to clear bushland or protect it, finds an intimidating maze that makes little sense even to the agencies that are part of it.

No one really knows how important each patch of bush is in a city-wide sense. Developers can proceed with the assumption that if they cut this bit down, someone else will save another patch, somewhere… just not in their backyard.

Yet after eight years of work on it, the McGowan government has suspended work on one of the state’s biggest planning documents, the one that might have fixed this mess once and for all.

Read the rest of this story here on WAtoday

Review: The Scholar, Dervla McTiernan

The ScholarDervla McTiernan’s debut The Ruin, introducing Irish detective Cormac Reilly, was a hit. It’s already been optioned for film by Australia’s Hopscotch Features.
So it’s safe to say this follow-up has been highly anticipated. 
Reilly is first on the scene when his partner, Dr Emma Sweeney, finds a hit and run victim outside Galway University. 
Her instinctive call to him means Reilly lands a case he never otherwise would have been called on to investigate; and it’s a big case.
A security card in the dead woman’s pocket soon identifies her as Carline Darcy, a gifted student and heir to Irish pharmaceutical giant Darcy Therapeutics. 
The profile is high and the pressure even higher as Cormac investigates and evidence mounts that the death is linked to a Darcy laboratory and, increasingly, to Emma herself.
Eventually, he is forced to question his own objectivity. 
The plot’s intricate and satisfying and it’s definitely a page-turner – I made a few half-hearted attempts to put it down, but I kept picking it up again. I was supposed to go to a party that Saturday night. Needless to say I didn’t make it to the party.
Charismatic Reilly and his beautiful, brilliant yet troubled girlfriend Emma Sweeney are intriguing. Not irritatingly virtuous, but likeable and nuanced. I’m already looking forward to seeing how they develop in the next book.
All the characters, in fact, particularly the police – such as lazy and resentful Moira Handley (who sounds creepily close to Myra Hindley), harassed and overstretched Carrie O’Halloran, smart and loyal Pete Fisher – feel authentic, all drawing the reader to invest more deeply in the story. I’m already hoping to meet them again in the next book.
McTiernan is a former lawyer from Ireland who has moved to Western Australia and the book’s glimpses into the Irish police force feel exotic to a Perth reader, and totally convincing in their procedural and legal detail.
Ireland’s an ideal setting for crime novels, with its atmospheric landscapes and complex social history, and I’m not the only one who loves it; before, I only really knew of Ian Rankin, but it turns out Irish crime is booming, leading to nicknames such as Celtic Crime, Hibernian Homicide and Emerald Noir (the latter  coined by beloved Scottish crime author Val McDermid).
I’m so happy to add Dervla McTiernan to my must-read list. Since she now lives in Perth, I get the Irish settings I love with the chance to support a local author. Win-win!
This was a solid read, and I can’t wait to see this writer develop into a stalwart of the genre. I have a feeling Detective Cormac Reilly will be around for a while yet.

‘We need young voices’: Why Freo Press has launched a $20,000 writing prize

Many industries are bringing in younger employees at the expense of more experienced ones, but there is at least one WA job overwhelmingly given to older people: the job of author.

WA author Craig Silvey wrote his first novel, Rhubarb, when he was 19 - but he's an outlier.
WA author Craig Silvey wrote his first novel, Rhubarb, when he was 19 – but he’s an outlier. Credit: Marco Del Grande 

Fremantle Press is known for introducing West Australian voices to a national audience, but what might surprise is that they are overwhelmingly the voices of people aged 35 and older.

And the chatter they’ve heard across the industry suggests that a lack of young stories is not just a local problem.

This is why the organisation, in partnership with the Fogarty Foundation, has launched one of Australia’s richest literary prizes – $20,000 cash, plus a Fremantle Press publishing contract – and the first and only one exclusively for young West Australian writers.

The inaugural biennial Fogarty Award is open to a previously unpublished work of fiction, narrative non-fiction or young adult fiction from any WA writer aged 18-35, and is intended to kick-start the winner’s career, support further creative work and bring more diversity to the submissions the Press is receiving.

“We’re not really getting those younger voices,” Fremantle Press publisher Cate Sutherland said.

“It’s been a reasonably consistent problem across a long period of time.”

She said the Press had authors in their mid to late 30s, their mid-40s, even in their 80s – just very few under 35.

Many high-profile Australian authors began young, including such names as Craig Silvey and Sonya Hartnett, Isobelle Carmody and Tim Winton; but they are the shining exceptions, not the rule.

Fremantle Press publishers had speculated that perhaps the ability to find an instant online audience had taken some energy that young writers might otherwise have spent on a “longer trajectory”, Ms Sutherland said.

Read the rest of this story here on WAtoday.  

Don’t try to be a ‘consumable product’: Minchin warns performers

Tim Minchin has shared the secrets of his success to an intimate audience of performing arts students, ahead of the second show of his BACK tour through Perth, Sydney and St Kilda.

The comedian and singer-songwriter, in Perth on the first stop of his national tour, was at Edith Cowan University’s Spiegeltent on Thursday to accept an honorary doctorate from the WA Academy of Performing Arts, where he earned his Bachelor of Contemporary Music long before becoming a household name.

The new Dr Minchin, flanked by the heads of the university.
The new Dr Minchin, flanked by the heads of the university. CREDIT:STEPHEN HEATH PHOTOGRAPHY

Garbed in doctoral robes and wearing a sheepish grin, after performances in his honour from a full complement of almost frighteningly skilled undergraduate singers and musicians, he said he was “hugely grateful and more than a little embarrassed.”

“There are artists here that just make me feel like the hack that I am,” he said.

Minchin warmed up the crowd with jokes about his free upgrade to the penthouse at Crown Towers – “like an Italian furniture showroom with so many couches that 90 people could comfortably sit in it … built for the purpose of making wankers feel like legends” – but soon got serious.

“If this were a graduation ceremony my role here would be give career advice to the grads,” he said.

“It’s not, but I’m old now, so my role is giving unsolicited advice, like all old white guys.”

He told the young faces turned towards him that being an artist required massive reserves of self-belief.

“Of course, the two years I spent here feeling unbelievably bad about myself was perfect preparation for the next eight years feeling even worse,” he said.

“Wanting to give up, cut my fingers off and feed them to a swan.

“Making coffees and pouring beers to pay my rent … my friends in the acting course all wandering around in black tights shagging each other.”

He said he often got asked for career advice, and it always reminded him of himself during this period.

“I was always thinking, what is the trick?” he said.

“There is no trick … but I will tell you three things that are important.”

Read the rest of this story here on WAtoday

All I want to say is that, they don’t really care about us.

OPINION

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees will require nations to phase out coal by mid-century and leave most fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Even at 1.5 degrees, warmer, up to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs will die.

Oil and gas companies are pillars of our society. Requiring them to offset their pollution would amount to reckless endangerment of our jobs and economy.

Right?

The Gorgon site.
The Gorgon site. AFR

Well, let’s take a closer look at this narrative.

Oil and gas production is causing Australia’s emissions to rise even as coal pollution dropsReports last November indicated half of the increase in Australia’s annual carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to Chevron’s failure to bury the carbon coming out of Gorgon in WA’s Pilbara.

WA’s emissions have seen the most rapid increase of any Australian jurisdiction, rising more than 27 per cent in the past 15 years.

So our Environmental Protection Authority had the gall to suggest Chevron, and the other oil and gas companies causing the rise in emissions should pay to offset their own pollution.

Shell, Santos, Chevron and Woodside sent their biggest wigs into town to talk to Premier Mark McGowan behind closed doors and hours later, the EPA backed down and withdrew its guidelines pending industry “consultation”.

I’m not saying that the guidelines were perfect or that business certainty counts for nothing.

The Macquarie Group warned the guidelines could delay projects and cost WA’s LNG industry billions.

But Macquarie and now the Reserve Bank of Australia have both warned, in the same breath, that the economic risks of climate change can no longer be ignored.

And let’s not forget we are talking about companies used to measuring costs and profits in the billions.

Children protested government inaction on climate change on Friday in Perth's CBD.
Children protested government inaction on climate change on Friday in Perth’s CBD. CAMERON MYLES.

Chevron reported $2.1 billion in revenue for 2016. Gorgon is a $55 billion project. It’s reportedChevron can potentially make $32 million per day across Gorgon and Wheatstone. Canberra-based think-tank The Australia Institute has calculated – using the publicly reported potential earning above, Chevron’s publicly reported emissions and the price for a federal government carbon credit – that Chevron could go carbon-neutral for about 2 per cent of their profits.

This would drop to around 1.7 per cent if they managed to get their underground carbon storage facility at Gorgon working.

Promising they would take 80 per cent of the CO2 in the gas coming from the reservoir, and inject it beneath Barrow Island, was key to them getting their environmental approval to operate in the first place. But they have been permitted to operate without having fulfilled that promise – surprise, surprise.

A year after they began operating it still doesn’t work; they are releasing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas.

They recently told media it was going to take another nine months. This was reported on March 5, the same day Chevron announced commencement of domestic gas deliveries from Wheatstone.

The WA government put out a media statement “celebrating” Chevron’s “important milestone” getting Wheatstone going, without ever mentioning Gorgon’s little problem.

If it was a problem stopping their gas flowing, you can bet your bottom dollar Chevron wouldn’t allow that situation to continue for a year and nine months. They’d throw everything at fixing it. Maybe even billions.

Read the rest of this piece here at WAtoday.

Perth doctor’s ‘happy bowel’ guide brings him shitload of fans

Who could have predicted that one of the biggest crowds at Perth Writers Week would be the one that gathered to hear a doctor talk about bowel movements?

Nevertheless, people lined up around the building to see Perth colorectal surgeon Michael Levitt, recently appointed WA’s chief medical officer.

Dr Levitt's book has struck a chord in the community.

“I think there were about 150-200 people, and it was packed – eventually they just had to close the doors,” he said.

“It was [Perth emergency doctor and author] Michelle Johnston who interviewed me, so I guess they figured if I wasn’t entertaining, at least she would be.

“I was a little surprised by the crowd though. It’s not my first book – I’ve written three books about bowels now.”

But this book is something of a departure from the first, The Bowel Book, published in 2002 by Oxford University Press – a textbook of bowel disorders aimed at the general public.

The second, The (Other) Women’s Movement, published in 2008, focused on managing constipation and while it was more approachable than the first, Dr Levitt said it still had “too much detail for general interest”.

But The Happy Bowel, whether it’s the bright cover, engaging tone, the endearing cartoons inside or a combination of it all, has enjoyed runaway popularity.

"An empty bowel is a happy bowel."

“In the course of a career your thoughts inevitably change over time; are subtly modified, based on feedback from patients,” Dr Levitt said.

“I also wanted to write a bit more in my voice.

“This subject is about significantly troublesome systems, and I have found approaching it with a lighter heart gets people onside.

“Every person in the planet has their bowels open in their own quirky fashion. Having that on the table, as it were, I think I get more information and patients become more receptive.”

But the book is not about cancer, colitis, Chrohn’s Disease, or even haemorrhoids.

It is for people who simply find bowel actions difficult – to start, to stop or to control in general. Who struggle with constipation, incontinence and dissatisfaction.

It’s what doctors call “functional” bowel disease.

To illustrate how function fails, Dr Levitt first describes what a “good action” looks and feels like.

“Prompt, effortless, brief and complete,” he said. “And the single most important thing? The strong urge that says, go now.

“People who can generate that urge but choose to go early, like guys who grab a book and wait on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, get into trouble.

“And people who never get that urge, more often women, have another significant problem.”

Read the rest of this article on WAtoday.