Review - Hard Labour, Bill Bateman
It's not a particularly easy undertaking - a book positing the idea that the Medical Board and Dr Vince Hanrahan thinking shunting someone to rural Victoria (Warrnambool in this instance) to work as a GP is "punishment", but then Hanrahan eventually does twig that the loss of your speciality is one thing, but living in a small rural city isn't the end of the world. The author of HARD LABOUR, Bill Bateman, certainly hasn't had the problem with the Medical Board, and appears to have done the opposite to his central character, moving from the Victorian south-coast to Melbourne, so the sense of place and community that he's developed in this novel has a strong sense of reality, as do the complications of life as a rural GP.
For something with a serious message at the centre of it, there's a sly sense of humour at work here as well. On the one hand - the death of a young patient triggering something approximately panic in a doctor that's already had his fair share of run-ins with Medical Authorities. He's in a fight to save his career as well as explain the suspicious death he encounters when called into the labour ward of the local hospital late one night. On the other hand - a father with an erratic style of housekeeping and personal care, head-strong teenage daughters, an ex-wife and all that goes with separation of family, long-distance relationships and, well, somebody who seems to really need help in getting his life back on track. The narrative swings from the comedy of his personal life, to the seriousness of the investigation and his professional reasonably seamlessly, once you get used to this dichotomy.
As you'd expect from a debut novel, things do get a little ropey in places, and it might take a little while for readers to twig that the style is slightly tongue in cheek - particularly given the subject matter may not initially seem likely to blend with a slight sense of farce. Go with it though and you could be pleasantly surprised. For any minor faults, HARD LABOUR's an interesting undertaking of an unusual crime and background, introducing an unusual sort of protagonist. There seems to be some hints around that this could be the start of a new series.
After a medical mishap, Dr Vince Hanrahan crashes professionally and personally, is all but struck off, and the Medical Board kicks him all the way down the Princes Highway to be a rural GP. Supervised. On notice. He rents a dump, lives off takeaway, and plans to see out his time before regaining his rightful position on the specialist pedestal.
Vince's old terrors resurface when he sees his young patient dead on the labour ward floor. The investigation declares the cause of death suspicious. Unless he can find out who did it, and why, the Board will come after him. And he’s on his last chance.
After another suspicious death, Vince realises that only he can clean up this mess; it’s time to pull his finger out. With the help of the IT-savvy Senior Constable Elena Genovesi and Emu Quick, a dying junkie and drug dealer, he sets up an elaborate, high-risk sting.
But even if he can get through this, has Vince lost his old life forever?