Boxed, Richard Anderson
I know that summer is supposed to be finished, but no one told the sun and its mate, the wind that blisters off the plain, making me feel like a dry frog stranded between water points. But I see the plains grass is still green, the dust is holding low, and the kurrajong tree leaves are shaking their shiny vigour, so perhaps the last few months haven't been that hot. Can't say I've been paying attention.
Richard Anderson's latest novel BOXED opens with a series of tableau paragraphs, almost photographic in their capture of place, and a man. Right from that start you know this is a man with problems.
I don't want to be Dave Martin, loser, parked at his mailbox under the river gum: two beers' drive from Stony Creek Pub, half a state from Sarah, and at least eighteen months past useful.
But Dave's not as useless as he thinks he is. Definitely struggling, grieving for a dead son, and a past life, Dave's paralysed by overwhelming loss, distracting himself with online shopping, waiting for the parcels delivered to his mailbox. Those parcels providing (he fully admits) a small moment of joy in what's otherwise a difficult, downtrodden life. Caught on the farm that's failing in part because of him, trapped by depression and an inability to pull himself out out of it, his interactions with the world are driven by those that come to him, but most especially his parcels.
Until the day something very unexpected is delivered to Dave's mailbox and things get weird. Packages of something white and large amounts of cash, a neighbour behaving oddly, a mailman who is unforthcoming, a neighbourhood suddenly infested with strange men with violence on their agenda, Dave's world quickly gets a lot more "interesting" than he wants, but it could just be the thing that he needs.
As with Richard Anderson's earlier book RETRIBUTION, BOXED is rural crime fiction of the highest calibre. It's not all blood soaked violence (although there is some of that), nor is it necessarily crime and punishment based. It's a character study through the prism of threat, and people outside their comfort zones. Particularly, in this case, a man for whom the problems of his life are pretty overwhelming. Dave Martin is beautifully evoked and whilst he will ring bells with city people, rural dwellers will know him in particular. A man whose life is tied to a place through generations past, the expectation would always be the same of generations future. Until the unbelievable happens and a moment wipes away that future. Then it's a marriage that doesn't survive the loss, but a friendship that remains. It's about somebody who can't bring themselves to step away from the source of so much pain, and yet simultaneously can't bring themselves to thrive in that place. It's about depression ultimately, the scourge of so many rural people where livelihoods depend so much on physical ability, often impaired by mental challenges.
BOXED is slower paced than some crime fiction, but there is an intriguing mystery at the heart of this novel, providing the catalyst that could change Dave Martin's life, wrecking it further, or possibly improving it. You won't know until the end of the novel, but I bet you by that time you will find yourself experiencing a connection with Dave and all his challenges.
When life delivers you gifts you don’t want.
Dave Martin is down on his luck: his wife has left him; his farm is a failure; his house is a mess; he has withdrawn from his community and friends; and tragedy has stolen his capacity to care. He passes the time drinking too much and buying cheap tools online, treating the delivered parcels as gifts from people who care about him.
And then boxes begin to arrive in the mail: boxes that he didn’t order, but ones that everyone around him seems to want desperately. As he tries to find out the secret of the boxes, Dave is drawn into a crazy world of red herrings and wrong turns, good guys and bad, false friends and true, violence, lust, fear, revenge, and a lot, lot more. It’s not a world he understands, but is it the only one Dave can live in?