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Review: The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

The Arsonist: A Mind On Fire
Chloe Hooper
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 251p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

On the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, then sat on the roof of his house to watch the inferno. In the Valley, where the rates of crime were the highest in the state, more than thirty people were known to police as firebugs. But the detectives soon found themselves on the trail of a man they didn’t know.

The Arsonist takes readers on the hunt for this man, and inside the strange puzzle of his mind. It is also the story of fire in this country, and of a community that owed its existence to that very element. The command of fire has defined and sustained us as a species – understanding its abuse will define our future.

A powerful real-life thriller written with Hooper’s trademark lyric detail and nuance, The Arsonist is a reminder that in an age of fire, all of us are gatekeepers.

I’d say almost all Victorians capable of it remember what they were doing on the day that came to be known as Black Saturday – the 7th of February, 2009. It was the culmination of a week or so of unrelenting heat. I remember it vividly for a few reasons, one of which was because it was my birthday. And we were going out to dinner that night with various members of family. We’d been out in the morning to pick up some stuff (a cake I think) and it had already been ridiculously hot. We’d also recently installed air conditioning and as it moved into the early afternoon, it was basically useless and we assumed we’d massively wasted our money. As we drove over the bridge at North Geelong, we caught a glimpse of the temperature gauge – 49 degrees Celsius. Which explained why the air conditioning wasn’t really working. It’s the hottest day I’ve ever experienced but by the time we came out of the restaurant about three or so hours later, it was already down to 19 degrees in Geelong, the massive predicted cool change ripping through. Which should’ve brought relief in many ways but for some of the 400 fires burning throughout the state from a combination of heat, arson, electrical failures etc, it only brought a fresh direction and an injection of oxygen that allowed them to take on an entirely new path of destruction.

I’ve already read one book about Black Saturday – Kinglake 350 by Adrian Hyland, which focuses on the Kinglake-Marysville area. This book by acclaimed author (of both fiction and non-fiction) Chloe Hooper focuses on the La Trobe Valley in Gippsland and the devastation that occurred there from two deliberately lit fires close together, as well as the man accused of lighting them. Perhaps because of location, I knew a lot less about the Gippsland fires than I did about the ones closer to me, up Kinglake and Marysville way – or perhaps because those fires wiped out whole towns. It’s such a devastating day in the state’s history and it’s even worse when you read about the fires that were deliberately lit. It’s one thing when it’s nature – a combination of searing heat, two weather patterns, a 12 year drought that combine. But when it’s someone that takes advantage of those conditions to deliberately cause destruction, it’s hard to take.

There’s a section of this book that details the stories of some of those that lost their lives – paragraph after paragraph of people who stayed behind to defend their houses and how that decision cost them. It’s honestly so hard to read. There’s the story of an older man who survived as the fire passed over his property but he lost his wife. He suffers burns to a significant part of his body and is hospitalised for weeks after the fire. His story is heartbreaking as he has to relive what happened over and over to give his statement, in front of his children who have lost their mother. This was a community that had seen much hardship over the years, not a wealthy community with mostly blue collar workers who struggled to make ends meet. For many of them, insurance wasn’t a priority.

This is not a cut and dried scenario. Police identified their main suspect relatively quickly and easily, which was unusual in a case like this when it could have been literally anyone. The accused is also possibly mentally disabled and most definitely has some form of learning difficulty. It’s possible that if he did it, he didn’t understand the consequences of his own actions. It’s possible he did – and is pretending he didn’t. It’s a really interesting situation and to be honest, nothing came across as clear cut and I’m honestly not sure it ever will. Regardless, he was convicted and is serving time in prison – a woefully inadequate sentence for the families of the affected. At times I was uncomfortable with some of the proceedings. This book is obviously more weighted to those that Hooper was able to talk to and gather information on and she wasn’t able to meet with the accused and at times he remains a bit of a mysterious figure. Both because of his learning difficulties (which seem to vary at different times, depending on who he is talking to and what situation he is in) and because there’s never really much in the way of illumination on the why. If he did it, was it because he didn’t understand what would happen? Or did he understand it and that was the entire point and everything that came after was an act? He was found fit to stand trial but there were times when I wondered about that, given the transcripts of his police interviews. There was also quite a bit in here about defending such a figure and the way in which the press bayed for blood when his name was released and how, even if he were granted bail, he wouldn’t ever be able to return to his home. In court, there were also victim impact statements read out that detailed how the aftermath of Black Saturday lasted well after the fires themselves were finally extinguished with marriage break ups, depression, anxiety, anger. There are fire fighters who weren’t able to work again after some of what they saw. It’s the sort of day that’s the land equivalent of the perfect storm and one you hope to never see again in your lifetime.

It’s always hard to say I enjoyed books like this, because it’s pretty grim from start to finish. But it’s fascinating and very well done. Chloe Hooper does this so well – I think I’m at the stage where I prefer her non-fiction work and I’m a person who doesn’t read a lot of non-fiction. But when I do, it’s stuff like this. It’s brilliantly done but also open ended in that there are things left a bit messy, a bit unknown. Because that’s life, isn’t it?

8/10

Book #1 of 2019

The Arsonist is my first title towards the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2019.

 

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A Child’s Book Of True Crime – Chloe Hooper

A Child’s Book Of True Crime
Chloe Hooper
Vintage
2002, 238p
Read from my TBR pile

Kate Byrne is a young school teacher, just out of teacher’s college. She’s having an affair with the father of her most talented student Lucien, a quiet boy with thought processes well beyond his years. Through his affair with Kate, Lucien’s father is able to dictate the curriculum Kate teaches the children, making suggestions of things she should be covering.

Lucien’s mother has just published Murder at Black Swan Point, a true crime novel about a young woman having an affair with her much older boss and the eventual murder of this young woman, apparently by her lover’s wife. Kate has her suspicions about the account in Murder at Black Swan Point, believing the conclusions drawn are wrong. She imagines her own version of this tale, but for her children instead, narrated by Australian animals.

Kate becomes obsessed with this crime that occurred in the past, becoming more and more fixated on the characters and details to the point where she begins to imagine herself within the story, feeling that history may repeat itself within the triangle she is currently involved in. As her obsession with the story grows and her own child’s book becomes fleshed out, she becomes less and less interested in the way in which she is being presented to both the local parents and also her superiors at the school.

A Child’s Book Of True Crime is Chloe Hooper’s first novel and was shortlisted for the 2002 Orange Prize, won by Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. I have read both of Hooper’s other books, the non-fictional The Tall Man and her latest novel, The Engagement which was released just last month. I started this one on the train on my way to see Hooper at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival – I’d always intended to read it this year for my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge and the fact that I was going to be seeing Hooper later that day was a perfect excuse to actually pull it down from the shelf and start it before I took it to get it signed.

It’s quite an unnerving tale – Kate is young, 22 or 23 and having an affair with a significantly older man who dominates her both sexually and also mentally. He seems almost dismissive of her other than in terms of having sex or when he can suggest things that she should be teaching within her classroom. His son Lucien is a boy well beyond his years, exposed to things by his adult parents that a boy of his age shouldn’t really be exposed to. He’s a bit of a classroom loner and the other students often don’t understand his thoughts and speeches, which are really the thoughts of a much older child. Kate has a soft spot for him though, as his father Thomas says, Lucien will be beloved to her, because she will look at him and see Thomas.

Thomas’s wife has written a successful novel depicting a true crime event that took place within the area and Kate becomes obsessed with the story: a young, naive woman working as an assistant to the local vet when they become emboiled in an affair. The vet’s wife discovers them and then the body of the young woman is found. Kate is certain that Thomas’s wife’s depiction is wrong and so she imagines her own novel, but woven as a tale for young children featuring characters such as Terence the (Tasmanian) tiger, Kitty the koala and Wally the wombat.

It’s almost cringeworthy watching Kate’s actions – her tawdry lunchtime meetings with the overly smooth Thomas and her inability to care that her superiors and the other parents of the children in her class are coming to view her with distaste. Her reputation is sliding southwards, but all that Kate can care about is the murder case, seemingly inserting herself within the story, convinced she is going to become a victim in similar circumstances. At the same time, she’s just a previously-sheltered young woman severely out of her depth in an affair with a married man older and infinitely more experienced than she is. He may be awakening her sexually but he seems completely oblivious of her rising obsession and concerns – which ends up culminating in a dramatic scene leading to Kate’s life falling apart at the seams.

I find it hard to articulate whether or not I liked this book. It’s confusing, chopping and changing between Kate’s often fractured thought processes, her story featuring the native animals, the story of the young murdered girl. There are situations where I felt for Kate and situations where I thought she really needed to seriously pull herself together and sort her life out. The affair with Thomas may have been sexually liberating for her but it didn’t take much to see that it was all coming at a huge price. The one time where Kate seemed most together was when she was teaching her class, focusing on her students – even if at times I questioned the level of things she was teaching 9 year olds.

I think A Child’s Book Of True Crime cements Chloe Hooper as a gifted storyteller and writer, a master of an unreliable narrator. I was never clear on how much was just Kate’s overactive, young, strung out imagination or if someone really was looking to scare her. But I’m not sure this book is one I would really place on the re-reads shelf!

7/10

Book #174 of 2012

A Child’s Book of True Crime was my 56th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

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The Engagement – Chloe Hooper

The Engagement
Chloe Hooper
Penguin AU
2012, 247p
Bought at Melbourne Writers Festival

Liese Campbell is a British woman in her 30s who lost her job as an architect due to the financial crisis and made her way out to Australia where she’s been working in Melbourne for her uncle’s real estate business. Most recently she’s been showing Alexander Colquhoun properties. Alexander is the heir of a pastoral dynasty in country Victoria near the Grampians and lately he’s been looking for a city crash pad.

The luxury apartments Liese has been showing Alexander don’t seem to be to his taste – so she keeps finding more. And lately they’ve been the scenes of a mutually satisfying relationship that is also helping to pay Liese’s credit card debt. In other people’s homes while the occupants are out, they play out fantasies.

Now Alexander has invited Liese out to his country property – isolated, a once majestic Victorian-inspired mansion going to ruin, surrounded by mountains and bushland. The amount of money he has named for her company for the weekend is generous and Liese is only too happy to accept, seeing her bills continuing to decline. But once they arrive, she starts to have the smallest feelings of trepidation. Feelings that grow.

The game has changed – Liese thought they both understood the rules but it seems as though Alexander is playing his own game now. Without a way to escape, Liese finds herself an unwilling pawn in whatever game it is that he’s now playing.

The Engagement is Australian author Chloe Hooper’s third novel, her second fiction novel. It was, as described by Hooper in her Melbourne Writers’ Festival event, as a modern-day gothic tale borrowing from some old tropes: a helpless young woman, a creepy house seemingly with a life of its own, a forced engagement. It’s been described as erotic, a thriller and a literary version of 50 Shades of Grey. It’s mostly that last one that I have a problem with. Because it’s not. Actually, it’s not even particularly close.

It seems now that anything that might contain a sex scene that borders on being even finitely kink, is going to get a comparison to 50 Shades of Grey. And yes, that’s the buzz book of the moment, it’s sold over a million copies in Australia and apparently sells at a rate of 2000 copies per week. It’s sold over 20 million copies in America and is the biggest selling book of all time, outselling Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, etc. But that does not mean that it’s something new and different, nor does it mean that every book after it need be compared to it.

The Engagement is a dark novel, written to expertly build the tension. It is a tale with an unreliable narrator, where you question everything that Liese is telling you, where you question Alexander is doing and saying, where you wonder what exactly you are supposed to believe. Who is playing the game? Are they both playing the game? Is something infinitely more sinister going on or is it all just an elaborate hoax designed to tap into two people’s secret fantasies, given a chance to play out? The questions rocketed through my mind reading it, I was alternatively convinced that Liese was about to get chopped up into tiny pieces and buried at the foot of the Grampians or that she was going to fleece Alexander for everything he did (or possibly didn’t) have. I read The Engagement at night, alone, after my kids had gone to bed and my husband was at work. The story hooked me from the first page, but the characterisation was even more fascinating:

Even at the best of times, I knew I came across as disconnected. I was there, but not there; often more aroused by the thought of intercourse than by the act itself, presenting my body at the outset so as to say, You can have this but no more. Then, after the physical act was over, something shattered. Almost immediately the man beside me seemed to be covered in tiny blemishes, and he was a little overweight, and painted with sweat, and he was there. Right there. I would have to try to be sensitive, acting as if I didn’t already want to be alone.

The Engagement is a deliciously dark and provocative tale that I do think will have a wide fan base – there’s a lot here to satisfy people who enjoy different types of books. If you like the idea of a gothic tale with a house and landscape that take on a life of their own, I can recommend this one. If you like the idea of a thriller that keeps you turning the pages because you have to know what is going to happen, how this game is going to end, pick up this book. However if you like 50 Shades Of Grey and think that this is just a more ‘literary’ version of that story then I would not advise you to choose this book. I do think the two are very different, in terms of writing and story line and also in terms of character depth and motivation. This isn’t a romance novel. It’s gritty and explores the trappings of money, power and sex in a pscyhological way more than a physical way. There are no real sex scenes in the book and I didn’t find it a sexually erotic book. I found it more thoughtfully erotic, in terms of a power play, a struggle between two characters.

If I had one quibble with this book, it was the quick ending – I’d have liked a little more length, a little more time taken because I’m that sort of person who loves closure and everything neatly resolved. Even though I felt it lacked a bit for me personally, I do acknowledge that it does work for the book.

8/10

Book #170 of 2012

The Engagement is the 54th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

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Melbourne Writers Fest – Sunday 2nd September

Sunday 2nd September was the last day of the Festival. I only had one event scheduled but I caught an early train and went in for the 10am morning reads session and listened to Michael Duffy, Paul Carter, Emily Perkins and Amy Espeseth read from their novels. I’ve read one of Michael Duffy’s non-fiction works, Call Me Cruel (which is the one he read from) and I was familiar with Paul Carter and Emily Perkins. Amy Espeseth was new to me and I very much enjoyed her reading – the setting was extremely vivid. I’ve added the book, Sufficient Grace, to my wishlist.

After that session I had a couple of hours to kill so I caught the free city circle tram down to Central Pier in Docklands. I walked along the pier back towards South Wharf – it was a lovely day, a bit breezy but beautifully sunny and I was happy just to be outside without being cold! Although I managed to avoid the festival bookshop today, I found one of my favourite bargain bookshops on my way back to Federation Square and picked up 6 books for $30. I could’ve bought quite a few more but I had to carry them!

My last session was In Conversation with Chloe Hooper. Chloe is an Australian author who has written both fiction and non-fiction to incredible acclaim. Her debut novel, A Child’s Book Of True Crime was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002. Her next novel was a work of non-fiction entitled The Tall Man about the death of an Aboriginal man in custody on Palm Island off the coast of Queensland. This book won several awards and was nominated for many others. Her most recent work, The Engagement, sees her return to fiction. It was released just last week and I managed to read it several days before this session which I was glad about as it certainly helped that I knew what all of the talk about the novel was about!

The session was hosted by Stephen Romei and he kicked off by describing The Engagement as a deeply erotic novel and almost immediately mentioned the elements of bondage, submission and dominance. Unfortunately, that led to 50 Shades Of Grey being brought up and it was asked if there was thought that people would think it was a ‘literary’ rip off of that novel.

Hooper answered that really, there are a limited number of fantasies out there. She taps into the ‘spooky house, spooky man’ idea but she maintains that it’s not an erotic novel – can you even write an erotic novel without any sex scenes? She says that she has read 50 Shades Of Grey and that she feels it was a genre book in the right place at the right time where a number of factors were right and things fell into place to make it the blockbuster it is. There are a zillion other books but for some reason, this one due to marketing or trend towards online reading, exploded. It was tossed around that we are living in an increasingly pornographic time and that explicit scenes may be a way to hold reader’s attention. Some stats for 50 Shades were thrown around – it’s sold 20 million copies in the US and sells around 2000 copies a week in Australia. It was at this stage of the event that I started to wonder whether or not I was in the right session because so far we’d talked a lot about 50 Shades and not as much about Chloe or any of her books, only in how this one might compare to 50 Shades. But finally it seems like we might be moving on!

Hooper said that she loves gothic literature – intimidating houses and women that must negotiate its mysteries in the tradition of novels such as Jane Eyre and RebeccaThe Engagement is a re-telling of a classic, the ‘forced engagement’ story, a modern day gothic tale which came out of an ambivalence towards marriage. Hooper is in the later part of her 30s now, happily partnered and with a small child but she said that she spent her late 20s and early 30s worrying about making a commitment to someone, cliched questions going around endlessly in her head: will she? Should she? Will he? Won’t he? Should they both? They’re the sort of questions that she’s now angry about having spent so much time worrying about them! Australia’s wedding industry generates 2 billion dollars per year for one third of them to end in divorce. She wanted to explore the dilemma of a modern woman agonising about a marriage that would take away her problems, but wasn’t particularly something that she wanted.

Hooper sees this novel as a thriller before an erotic novel – in fact is it an erotic novel? It encompasses the problems that sex can cause. We are only presented with one side (the female main character Liese’s side) during the story and there’s a question over her narrative, is she telling the truth? Is Alexander telling the truth? Are they both telling a version of the truth? She’s really writing about a fictional realm of two people playing out a game with the reader left to decide what is really going on.

Hooper talked a little about the characters next – Alexander is a cattle farmer out in the Grampians looking for a city pad. He was described as a typical “Geelong Grammar” type with a Squire/peasant split. Liese is a modern, city girl in a bit of debt who sees sex for money as a way to reduce that debt. Alexander invites her to his country estate for the weekend, for a very handsome fee and then proposes. Even though Liese doesn’t want to marry him, she can, for a moment, see herself doing it. Redecorating the Victorian-inspired mansion, her debts gone, her parents off her back. Alexander in return is drawn to the idea of a “fallen woman” that he can save.

Her non-fiction work, The Tall Man, was mentioned briefly and whether or not she would continue to write a mix of fiction and non fiction which she said that she would like to do. She maintains that non fiction “gets you out of the house” and that writing non fiction exercises different muscles. With non fiction, you are dumped out of a boat and the tide takes you somewhere. With fiction, you have to tread water and decide where to swim.

She actually began The Engagement after completing her first novel and then set it aside to write The Tall Man. It (The Engagement) wasn’t working and she was given an opportunity to do The Tall Man which became a story that got under her skin. She went to the inquest because her novel had stalled, expecting a 2-3 week assignment and then fell into something much bigger, much longer. She felt The Tall Man had a real urgency, a story that had to be told. She described it as an “honour” to have that front row seat and do that work. She really had to work out what she could say about Senior Sergeant Hurley without a lawsuit. During question time, she was asked if she was still involved in the Palm Island community and she said that yes, she is, particularly with the Cathy Freeman Foundation, which aims to close the literature gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

After writing The Tall Man she feels that she came back to The Engagement as a better writer. She wrote most of The Engagement with a small baby (Hooper lives with Don Watson, a recognisable name to many as a speechwriter for Paul Keating, former Prime Minister and author of his account of those years, Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: A Portrait of Paul Keating, PM. He has also written several other books and is the winner of more than one The Age Book Award and The Age Award for Non-Fiction).

The talk returned to The Engagement and Hooper was asked:
“Is there room in the novel for love?”
“Yes.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“No.”

She then laughed and said that it was a co-mingling of sex, fantasy, money and “50 Shades of Love”. But love is a background note.

Overall I did enjoy this session, I found Hooper personable and interesting but honestly? 50 Shades of Grey had no place in this session. I know it’s the book of “now” and it’s everywhere, but the two books are not similar. Fans of 50 Shades Of Grey are not going to love The Engagement and vice versa. They’re two very, very different stories written in very different ways and it seemed a bit odd to spend so much time talking about a book by another author and published by a different publisher. I may address my feelings on this further in my review of The Engagement, which will be up in a couple of days.

After the session I had my 3 books by her signed and I mentioned that I have a son the same age as hers (11 months). Hooper had mentioned in the talk that her son is at the age of trying to get and rip up books and so is mine. We found out they’re just 8 days apart and both of us have bookshelves in severe peril from tiny hands!

Well that’s my first Melbourne Writers Fest over and done with! I had a fabulous time – enjoyed all the events I chose immensely and came away with *cough* many new books and even more than that on my wishlist. I found the Festival helpful in encouraging me to get out and see more of the city itself too. I don’t live very far out but the amount of time I spend in the CBD is very small so it was nice to walk around it most days I was in there and get to know my way around and see some of what Melbourne has to offer.

Bring on next year!

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The Tall Man – Chloe Hooper

On the 19th of November in 2004 on Palm Island, an Aboriginal community on Great Palm Island off the coast of Queensland Australia, a 36 year old Aboriginal man was walking along a road, a bit under the influence. A local white police officer, Snr Sgt Chris Hurley was escorting a local Aboriginal woman back to her home to get her insulin after she had been assaulted by her de facto partner. The Aboriginal man, known as Mulrunji, abused the police officer and his partner, the police liaison officer verbally and Snr Sgt Hurley made the decision to arrest him.

Mulrunji was thrown into the back of the police wagon and taken to the local police station. As he was being escorted inside, a scuffle broke out which was partially witnessed. Both the Snr Sgt and Mulrunji fell to the ground before Mulrunji was hauled up and placed in a cell. The cell had cameras fitted and when the footage was viewed, when an officer came in to check on Mulrunji, he could not rouse him, even after a kick. Several other officers came in, to the same result – he was pronounced dead in custody.

The residents of Palm Island did not take kindly to this death in custody or the way it was handled by the local police and the resulting investigation. Snr Sgt Chris Hurley and his police liaison officer, were both flown off the island quickly when the local residents started protesting and it looked like things might turn ugly. And turn ugly they did – the local Aboriginal community rioted, threatening the remaining local officers and those flown in from the mainland to try and control the situation.

An autopsy was conducted which found that Mulrunji sustained some severe injuries – his liver had almost ruptured in two around his spine leading to massive internal bleeding into his abdominal cavity – a catastrophic injury that a surgeon even admitted he would fail to save in a properly equipped hospital. The bleeding was just too great and too rapid. An inquiry opened up into the death and whether or not Snr Sgt Chris Hurley was in any way responsible. It took a very long time and eventually the QLD DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) recommended that charges not be laid. Amid public outrage, the QLD Premier appointed a retired judge to review the DPP’s decision. This resulted in an overturning of the decision and charges were laid against Snr Sgt Chris Hurley.

He was the first police officer to be charged with the resulting death of an Aboriginal in custody. The trial took place in Townsville, Queensland in June of 2007 and cost at least $7m. The pro bono lawyer for Mulrunji’s family and the community of Palm Island asked Chloe Hooper, author of the Orange Prize shortlisted A Child’s Book of True Crime to write an account of the events surrounding the death, the investigation and trial. Chloe Hooper spent three years researching this book, including travelling to some of the remotest Aboriginal communities in Australia where Snr Sgt Chris Hurley had worked previously. He was known for his choice to work in these communities. So was he responsible for the death of Mulrunji? And would he be held accountable for it?

The Tall Man is one of the Top 10 Books My Husband Has Been Bugging Me To Read which was the topic of one of my recent Top 10 Tuesday posts. When I was writing that post I realised that I didn’t actually know what some of his recommendations were about and that when I read the blurb for this one, I immediately wanted to read it. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, which is interesting as I have a couple of other non-fiction titles on the go at the moment. I tend to take a lot longer to read them than I do fiction as I read a handful of chapters and then set them aside for a while and go back to them periodically. However I did get through this one fairly quickly in terms of my non-fiction pace, probably in three or so days.

It’s a very frank account of the events, detailing the poverty and the dependence on alcohol of the Aboriginals living on Palm Island and the bleak situation many of them find themselves in. Domestics are common, as is drinking for 24, 36, 48 hours straight, both men and women. The hardcores even drink something known as goom – methylated spirits mixed with water and that’s what Mulrunji had been drinking the day he was arrested. I’ve no doubt it’s probably not an easy job to police those communities and it seemed that Chris Hurley had made a career out of it. Still on that day, his decision to arrest Mulrunji was in my opinion, a bit strange – yes the indigenous man assaulted him but it was probably nothing they didn’t hear a dozen or more times a day (this book is littered with the c*** word, it appears to be how everyone talks, it’s dropped in casual conversation every fourth or fifth word). The decision to arrest him and manhandle him did strike me as slightly excessive. Snr Sgt Hurley was also 6 foot 7 and 115kg compared to Mulrunji’s 5’9 and 70-something kg. It was alleged by the prosecution that Hurley fell onto him and drove his knee into him, causing the catastrophic liver damage, whether deliberately or accidentally.

Although this book focuses mostly on the Aboriginal family of Mulrunji, their lives, their grief and their quest for justice (which is relatively unsurprising given it was their lawyer who requested she write the book), it does deal with the inconsistencies and the lack of creditable evidence and witnesses on their side against the police officer. It delves further than the Palm Island community, talking about the indigenous population as a whole and Hooper visits several remote communities and outlines the conditions and lifestyles in them. It was an eye opening experience reading this book and I was schooled in the ‘new’ theory of appreciation for indigenous culture and respect for their position in our country, which wasn’t always the line of teaching. My parents for example, were taught a very different Australian history and their generation often has totally different views and opinions on the indigenous population. These views or ones similar, are touched upon by the police force in their defense of their member and it becomes almost a victimization of Chris Hurley.

The Tall Man is a fascinating book, which sometimes reads almost like a fictional piece, rather than with the dry clinical tone of non-fiction. It does have a side and a bias, although it’s not an obviously blinded one and the facts are all presented for the reader to make what they will of the situation.  I definitely enjoyed reading it – I liked Hooper’s style and thoroughness and the way in which she wove a real story out of a news piece. There was more to it than just a man dying in custody after being arrested – she presented a family, a plight of a community and the struggle of a police force. My husband owns her fiction novel, but it’s in a plastic tub somewhere and although I’d love to read it, I think it’ll take me forever to find it.

8/10

Book #135 of 2011

I’m counting this book towards my What’s In A Name?4 Challenge. It fits into the 3rd criteria – Read A Book With a SIZE In The Title. I’ve now completed 5/6 categories with only the Evil requirement left to fill.

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