I’d been wanting to read P.M. Newton’s The Old School for a very long time. Ever since it came out in 2010, actually.
My buddy, Rodney, who is quite the afficionado of Australian crime fiction, had mentioned it to me and I was immediately taken with the idea of a Vietnamese Australian detective in 1990s Sydney.
It took me till 2013 to read The Old School (thanks, @oanh_1), and I included it as part of my AWW 2013 listing. The impending publication of Newton’s second novel with the same lead character – Nhu “Ned” Kelly – spurred me to get a hold of the first. I inhaled the book, with its fast-paced narrative and tough, adeptly attuned characterisations. Then I eagerly awaited the second.
Beams Falling sat on a library shelf one weekend, tempting me with its new-bookish allure. I snatched it up immediately.
I also inhaled this book, even as I was telling myself to slow down and enjoy the prose, to take the time and appreciate the succinct turns of phrase and savvy dialogue. But I couldn’t stop or slow the reading. I had to find out what happened, even as the narrative took harrowing turns that made my chest ache for the characters involved.
I loved both books. Newton’s writing effectively conjures the language and context of undercover police work and the incestuous (protective) culture of the officers and detectives. In Beams, I was particularly caught up in the way Cabramatta and its surrounding suburbs were portrayed, and the vicious manipulators within the drug trade who operated in these areas. I’ve been to Cabramatta only once, so it’s not as if I have a good handle on the space and its ambience. Despite reading cultural studies articles about the geopolitics of Asian Australian identity in the Western suburbs of Sydney, and seeing films and TV shows that had been filmed there, I remain very much a tourist about the areas.
Having read both books now, I appreciated Newton’s deftness in keeping the various compelling narratives alive and the tension for them sustained.
I wanted to make special mention of how fab a character I think Ned is. Complicated, frustrated (and frustrating!), mistrustful, brittle. Wholly credible. Her suspicion and wariness moved through the narrative well, and – even though I kept wishing for some form of happy ending (mea culpa) – I already knew this wasn’t that kind of novel.
Newton finishes the book in a very satisfying way. I’m being deliberately vague so as not to spoil anyone, but take it from me that it fulfils its promise in pacing and depth of story.
I came away from the book harrowed (as I mentioned on Twitter, way back when), but harrowed in a good way. The way a book embeds itself in your mind and you know you’ll never forget it.
I should also mention that I started this post more than 6 months ago, when I was still intent on completing AWW 2014. Ahem. Life – and a new job – definitely got in the way of other pursuits this year!