Retribution, Richard Anderson

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Book Synopsis

Perhaps if Sweetapple hadn’t stopped to help the idiots who had just near run him off the road in their ute, things may have gone entirely differently.

Times are tough for everybody and Graeme Sweetapple is making the best of what land he has left.  Once the Sweetapple family owned a working farm but now the holding is small, and Sweetapple is not producing enough of an income to support his dog, let alone fund his own needs.  A little work for a neighbour sometimes brings in the coin, as does Sweetapple’s occasional side hustle of stealing cattle.  It is the latter activity that Sweetapple is engaged in one night when he stops to helps two people out of a car wreck.  Both are activists from the site of a nearby coal mine, carrying some dangerous stolen goods in their vehicle. Before the cops get there, Sweetapple finds himself agreeing to take the dismantled parts of a bomb away in his truck, without the slightest clue of what it is he will do with them.

Sweetapple’s flighty young love interest Carson is not sure that Sweetapple should be doing any work at all for super shady Bob from next door, and that includes teaching Bob’s ex politician wife how to ride. Tasked to steal a gorgeous horse named Retribution for Bob, Sweetapple falls for the  mare and soon realizes he hasn’t been paying enough attention to Carson who has struck up a friendship with Luke, another town drifter with his own secrets and struggles to hide.  The three of them come together to form a plan of revenge when Bob reclaims Retribution from Sweetapple’s care.  The purity of hate sweeps across Sweetapple to meet destruction with destruction.

Book Review

Another entry in the expanding Rural Noir category, it's sometimes hard not to come to these novels with a slight sense of foreboding. The "new big thing" is all too often a marketing ploy - more experienced in the hype than the actuality. Fear not however, RETRIBUTION is a good one, different, unusual and a refreshing twist on crime fiction as a whole. Up front - there's not a human murder to be seen here, although the fate of one animal in particular will not impress those readers from the "don't care what you do to the people, but touch one hair on that animal's head and..." camp. A category I will admit a leaning towards, particularly if there's the slightest sense that animal deaths are gratuitous, for shock value. In this case there's a sinking inevitability about it, but to be honest, the reaction of central character Graeme Sweetapple made up for that in many many ways.

But the book itself. RETRIBUTION is as laid back, disaffected and disarming as they come. The central character is an interesting choice in that you can almost see him flinching from the limelight. He's one of those blokes, last in a long line of farmers where the trickle down effect of kicking small farmers in the head over many generations has finally achieved something. His family farm shrunk to a small holding, his small place in the world supported by a bit of cattle rustling, a bit of horse handling for wealthier "townie" farmers, and a bit of whatever it takes to get you through the day. He's a resourceful, quiet, purposeful sort of a bloke, imbued with ingrained sadness and regret, possessed of enormous ingenuity when it comes, in particular, to the cattle rustling game. There were tricks of the trade revealed in this book that impressed - bald tyres, night time drives without headlights, and best of all a stunt to get around the DNA police that had never ever occurred. A slightly distant character, Sweetapple is a real and very appealing human being.

You can certainly see why he would appeal to young Carson - another local with little desire to move away, and yet an underlying yearning for something that she can't quite describe, but knows damn well is there. The attraction between these two is beautifully understated, underplayed and realistic. There is much here that is bittersweet - content in a way with their lot, never indulging in wool over eyes pretence, it kind of makes sense that when eventually jolted from a sort of life on auto-pilot scenario, there's something slightly haphazard about their response - as determined and utterly understandable as it is.

Add to this mix an incomer with agenda's in all directions, and you've got a catalyst, a nuisance, an explainer, a potential rival, part of a revenge plot and an instigator of one of his own and you've got a firey mix, destined to go pear-shaped no matter how you look at it.

Elegantly written, beautifully evocative of the sense of place, and people in it, Richard Anderson knows that of which he writes. The subtle interplay between incomer and long-time local, the tension between "amateur" farmer with money versus lifelong farmers with affinity for the land and the livestock is nicely done - never preachy, never overt. There's also heaps of social issues from the bush that are drawn out, from those local problems right through to the coal mine activists and the mixed feelings about their activities. 

All in all this is good rural-noir. It comes from the place and the people that it's written about and it's got the authority, and the touch that comes from living in the world that it's describing.

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