LEFT LUGGAGE is the debut novel of Sydney based author Andrew Christie. Set mostly in and around Newtown and inner Sydney it combines an unlikely cast of central characters: John - an ex-Army house renovator; Betty - his Australian-born, French resident, famous war photographer mother; Billy – an abused and neglected young boy and Large – a gangster.
Categorised as a thriller, Left Luggage is a slow burner. The initial setup involves John bringing Betty (the names do look unfortunate when you put them like that) back from her beloved Paris to live in Sydney, in a Retirement Village.
“The two old armchairs that had been in the living room of her apartment in Montparnasse he had eventually put against the end wall. An oak dresser, the old kitchen table and a couple of bookcases didn't leave room for any other furniture.”
Betty is experiencing the sorts of things that so many older people have to deal with. A bad fall that broke her leg has left her physically reduced, and not able to live in her upstairs Parisian flat. Born and raised in Sydney, she left as a young woman never returning until now, despite sending John to boarding school there – his father having been killed before he was born. Her move into a Retirement Village is disconcerting, she's been torn away from her friends and the society and lifestyle that she loved, and adjusting isn't easy.
“Paris had been her home all her adult life. It was her heart, it was in her. John didn't understand that. She had nothing in Sydney anymore except her old memories.”
Eventually she is able to make a friend, to form a connection with young Billy and to start to build a life. In the meantime John is renovating his own inner-Sydney house, and also making friends with and supporting young Billy. The boy first came to John's attention when he started hanging around outside his new house – originally it had been Billy's grandmother's house and his mother resented the sale. She is also a neglectful and abusive mother, and his older brother is a bully.
“He was probably right, thought John. If they took him away from his family, at his age, he wasn't going to end up in some neat suburban foster home. And he wasn't a big kid, he'd struggle in a group home.”
As the upheavals are occurring in the Lawrence family, Large Phil Waters had problems of his own. His dodgy “exporting” setup seems to have revealed some competing activities which don't make him, or his associates at all happy.
“Okay, sure. A container came through this morning with a suitcase in it, like you said. Loaded – guns and money.”
Large, as he's known to all, is already living a dangerous life in Sydney's underworld when he comes into contact with John Lawrence and his mother he's desperate and dangerous.
“They stood slowly and filed out, watching Large all the way. Part of him really wanted to try something. He would enjoy shooting them, but he knew the momentary satisfaction it would give him wouldn't be worth the shitstorm that would follow.”
Left Luggage really does suffer from too much up front build-up. There's a lot of introducing characters, scene setting and background building happening, which leads to a substantial delay until the collision of all the characters. As many of the plot elements drop into place, a lot of the major components are telegraphed a long time before they are actually explored, which gives the book a weird sense of delayed gratification – it's hard to fight off the desire to start begging the author to get on with it. Which is unfortunate as in-line with the plot advancements, much of the character background would be both more interesting and worthwhile.
There is, however, some bravery in some of the resolution, albeit a bit of a kicker for readers who develop some sort of character connection along the way.
It's hard to pick whether Left Luggage is the start of a series featuring John Lawrence, and if so, how you'd get him back into other dangerous situations, although you can see how it would be an attraction for an author. Not quite a super-hero type, he's prepared to put himself on the line if required, he's brave, strong and capable.