Review - The Serpent's Sting, Robert Gott
William Power has been "resting" for a long time now, so his re-emergence in THE SERPENT'S STING is a relief for all concerned. For those that haven't read the first three books in this series (GOOD MURDER, A THING OF BLOOD and AMONGST THE DEAD), Shane Maloney described Power thus:
Literature has had its share of heroes, heroes of many kinds: classic heroes, super heroes, accidental heroes, flawed heroes, anti-heroes. And now, at last, it has a dickhead hero.
Readers would be hard-pressed to miss the tongue firmly implanted in authorial cheek in this series. In THE SERPENT'S STING William and his brother Brian are back in Melbourne after their war efforts in the Northern Territory, back to the bosom of home and their loving mother Agnes ... and her inconvenient beau Peter Gilbert and his own children. There's quite a bit of history to this little family tableau, given enough context in this outing to allow new reader's into the secrets.
It also isn't going to take too long for new readers to pick up on the substance behind Maloney's characterisation of William Power. He's gloriously, wonderfully, completely and totally self-involved. As much as he fancies himself a great Shakespearean actor, it's very hard to get that line Richard II out of your head "Infusing him with self and vain conceit". Yet, as surprising as this might seem, there's something touching and quite endearing about William Power. For all his self-regard and self-centeredness, always there's a sneaking suspicion that William is as aware as anybody else that "one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."
Obviously character plays a huge part in the William Power series. Despite William being at the core of everything, with his voice being the main perspective into the bargain, his brother Brian, his mother Agnes, Peter Gilbert and his family manage to hold their own in comparison. Somehow they manage to form personalities of their own - perhaps because they so often disappoint or confuse William himself.
Because of the time at which these books are set, all the plots revolve around aspects of life in Australia during the Second World War, always with a strong local connection. This novel creates an particularly curly domestic scenario interwoven with the fallout from the killing spree of Eddie Leonski - the notorious "Brownout Strangler"; the presence of American Serviceman in Melbourne and the changes in society that are concomitant with the pressures of war. It also uses realistic feeling locations around Carlton and the inner city for most of the action to take place in - with casual insertions of walking through parks, past cemeteries and to and from the city to give a real sense of place and atmosphere.
The interweaving of war work and the world of the theatre is elegantly presented, and at the heart of it all there is the wonderful William Power. Of course wonderful is understating his magnificence - as I'm sure he'd assert should you meet in a darkened post-theatre bar, preferably after a performance of high culture and wit. As opposed to the vaudeville and pantomime that alas, even an actor of William Power's worth, has been forced to sink.
Look for the sly sense of humour in these books (which frequently tipped over into outright laughter for this reader), and past the bombastic outer shell of William Power, because THE SERPENT'S STING is a worthy addition to a series of novels that must come highly recommended.
'It was suffocatingly hot, and the audience of howling children was viciously indifferent to the violence being done to my integrity as an artist by every ghastly syllable I was obliged to utter and by every mincing step I was obliged to take. As the foul smell of the ancient wig I was wearing wafted into my nostrils, I began to view the bombing of Darwin with something like nostalgia.'
William Power, actor and sometime private inquiry agent, has returned from the Northern Territory, shaken, stirred, and generally discombobulated. 'I survived the tropics with my life and my looks intact, despite the best efforts of the flora, fauna, and Military Intelligence to steal both from me.' It is late 1942, and in what he believes is a demeaning sideshow to the war, he finds himself playing a pantomime dame. If only this was his only worry, but, as his great hero, Shakespeare, noted, 'When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.' Can Will finally overcome his tendency to be the living embodiment of Murphy's Law?