REVIEW

Bush Sick Land, Julian Barrett

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Set in 1960s small town New Zealand, BUSH SICK LAND is a story that sets itself so firmly in time and place that it's uncomfortable. A time when racism, homophobia and gender stereotypes were not just rife, they kind of felt like they are being celebrated. Back when radio and vinyl records ruled, when men worked, suppressed all their emotions, fixed stuff, got drunk and lashed out; women cooked, cleaned, dealt with a lot of externally imposed limitations and dodged a lot; and kids did as they were expected to do, and never questioned anything or anyone.

Somewhere in the middle of all the daily life stuff, Constable Colin Coates is a classic small town copper who knows everybody and everything that's going on (or at least he thinks he does), but the violent death of a friend finds him wrong-footed and unsure. Put best by the blurb:

"After the violent death of his best friend, Constable Colin Coates is drawn into a case involving an old flame and her missing teenage son, a taxidermist timber magnate, a gang of bikers with a penchant for swastikas and French kisses and a CIB Detective with a back seat and front brain full of forensic psychology journals. But what does all this have to with the bird woman And why is the constables son so frightened Forget the rose tinted glasses, this book is a pair of thorn-rimmed spectacles. Gloomy, outrageous and blackly funny, step into the world of Bush Sick Land."

BUSH SICK LAND is very much a character study first up, followed by an exploration of small town New Zealand at a point in time, that one would suspect means something to the author - certainly there were resonances here for a girl who grew up in 1960s country Australia. The humour is dark, and pointed, as are the observations of the way that life pans out for all of the characters in this book. The ideal marriage that has it's challenges, the small town idyllic lifestyle that requires some quick footwork to survive, and the pressures, tensions and cracks that appear in a perfect world, as imperfections rise to the surface.

Of course there's a murder investigation going on here, competing for attention with a disappearance, the odd behaviour of a gang of bikies and a very frightened young boy. Through this comes Colin Coates, a man who externally seems content with his lot, but internally has a lot going on. In a "fix stuff, emotionally suppressed, keep it under barely under control" sort of way.

Which felt like the point of BUSH SICK LAND - it's a murder mystery / police investigation styled novel, set in the 1960s, a world away from a lot of people's current experience, and it's searching for understanding of those aspects - the way that people were, thought and lived then - that is nearly as important as searching for a murderer and motive.

 

Book Source Declaration
I received a copy of this book from the publisher or author.
BOOK DETAILS
BOOK INFORMATION
ISBN
9798633647822
Year of Publication
BLURB

Bush Sick Land is a mystery.

The setting is a small New Zealand town at the tail end of the 1960s.

After the violent death of his best friend, Constable Colin Coates is drawn into a case involving an old flame and her missing teenage son, a taxidermist timber magnate, a gang of bikers with a penchant for swastikas and French kisses and a CIB Detective with a back seat and front brain full of forensic psychology journals.

But what does all this have to with the bird woman

And why is the constables son so frightened Forget the rose tinted glasses, this book is a pair of thorn-rimmed spectacles.

Gloomy, outrageous and blackly funny, step into the world of Bush Sick Land.

bush sickness n. (NZ) A mysterious degenerative condition affecting livestock of the South Waikato-King Country region. In 1935, the cause was discovered to be the very earth itself; a deficiency of cobalt in the pumice-rich soil of the central volcanic plateau.

Review Bush Sick Land, Julian Barrett
Karen Chisholm
Wednesday, August 4, 2021

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