EL DORADO - Dorothy Porter

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

I'll be perfectly honest - I circled El Dorado in the Readings tent at the Melbourne Writers festival for days.  It's a contemporary Australian crime fiction thriller.  It was long-listed for the 2007 Ned's and I'd promised myself to read the entire list of nominees this year.  So why was I circling?  

Well El Dorado is a verse novel - poetry and I admit I'm never convinced about reading poetry.  Sure I love listening to some bush poetry, and I love to listen to some I guess you'd call them performance poets - ask everyone about dragging me away from Lem Sissay's performances at last year's MWF - but reading an entire verse novel.... a crime verse novel.  Errrrrrrrrrr

So I circled.  

The opening verse is a ripper mind you:

The little girl's
dead hand
is sticking stiffly
as if reaching
to grab an angel's foot.


Then I found this stanza on page 8 and I was heading for the cash register:

It's not often
I envy
Detective Sergeant Rodney Mason

but a man
with no imagination
and no sense of smell -
'the wife reckons
that's why
I never buy her flowers' -
is right at home
in the city morgue

El Dorado is fascinating.  As a story it switches from dark comedy, to tragedy.  The personal lives of the investigating team are laid bare, the raw grief of families who lose a child to a murderer, the panic and worry as it becomes increasingly obvious that not only do they not know who, they don't understand why.  There's pace, there's a progression of the story and it's done in pared down, beautifully worded verse.

El Dorado is a great crime novel.  It's compelling verse.  All I can say is don't circle it like I did - grab a copy and try it - you'll probably find yourself mildly astounded.


There is a serial child killer stalking the streets of Melbourne.

The victims are killed gently, lovingly, a gold mark traced on their forehead.

This killer doesn't hate children.  This killer believes in childhood innocence at any cost.

Unflinching and morally uncompromising, El Dorado is the story of a friendship under siege, and the very long shadows that jealousy and betrayal can cast.  It is both a complex thriller and a compelling reading experience from Australia's maverick and most versatile poet.

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