Island thriller skips to double-Dutch

The Island, by Adrian McKinty, Hachette Australia

Takes a fair leap of faith to convince yourself the premise for this story might reasonably be able to happen. It’s far-fetched and unrealistic but if you think people like Ivan Milat and Bear Grylls can exist then the leap into its treachery, cruelty and heroics isn’t so difficult.

That said, the plot’s a fast-paced affair about an American orthopaedic hotshot, Tom, in Melbourne as a conference keynote speaker. His two kids are badgering him to find some koalas in the wild. They drag him and Heatherm his young second wife – the first died from an unusual fall down the stairs – off to ‘Dutch Island’, out in Westernport Bay just spitting distance from the mainland.

Despite multiple warnings and ominous comments, they insist on driving across the private property in search of the native herbivorous marsupial. But Tom hadn’t been able to get the top-line Porsche Cayenne hire car he’d ordered and he’s sooking in a slightly cheaper Porsche.

So when a deaf cyclist fatally jumps out in front of him as he’s speeding across the island, it’s all the car’s fault. Didn’t have the accident avoidance system he’d ordered. The island’s hillbillies, the dead girl’s in-laws, don’t buy it for a second. But they’re happy to let Tom off the hook for the lazy half million he offers.

And the deal’s going swimmingly, until the dead girl’s husband fronts up and starts shooting. Tom cops it and after a nasty half-strangled incarceration Heather and the two entitled brats manage to hit the track. It’s 100 degrees in the shade, water nowhere to be found, the kids are whinging their precious butts off, the landscape’s rough scrub offering no shelter and a veritable scourge of drunken, shotgun-wielding uber-bogans are hot on their tail.

At this point, we’re moving into spoiler alert territory so clear out if you like but I’ll try not to wreck things wholesale. What you probably want to know, apart from the ending – which I’m not exposing, I’ll leave that little surprise for you – is that this game of cat and mouse turns very nasty. Inventively nasty, too. The atrocities will appeal to those of a horror genre bent.

The guerrilla warfare that Heather and the kids cook up, despite various ridiculous frustrations from a German couple also on the run, is cunning, courageous, lucky and for the main part effective. It drives a thrilling, action-packed narrative that will keep you flicking the pages faster than you really should. There are curious things to learn in the quieter moments.

Mind you, one or two encounters just aren’t right. Up there with the pantomime-level “He’s behind you!” stupidity. Why the editors didn’t rein these in is anyone guess but they’re flaws that undermine an almost, almost, possible story.

There’s also some mile-kilometre, Fahrenheit-Celsius explanations, obviously for dumb Yanks, that just grate. And for Aussies reading about a former prison island at Westernport called Dutch Island, well, that’s equally weird. Why not just call it French Island? No-one’s going to tie you to a bed of red-ants … if you’re lucky.

Time for mercy … for readers

A TIME FOR MERCY: by John Grisham, Hachette

So your stepdad’s a monster. A drunken, dishonourably-discharged army grunt-turned-cop who regularly bashes your mum, your sister and yourself.

When he belts and kills your mum, Josie, in his latest boozed fury, you figure you know who’s next. But what to do? This has been going on for months but now he’s passed out you grab his gun and pop him one in the skull before he wakes and lurches into another murderous rampage.

Sixteen-year-old Drew is small for his age, tiny in fact. Kiera, his 14-year-old-sister, is far more developed and it hasn’t been overlooked by the stepdad. No-one knows it yet, but she’s pregnant to him.

Stu Kofer’s police colleagues at Clanton, Mississippi, are outraged that one of their own is murdered in his bed. His family is bloodthirsty and bent on revenge. Almost everyone in town is appalled and wants young Drew executed.

Lawyer Jack Brigance soon learns Kofer’s been leading a double life: well-regarded, respectable copy by day; mongrel, out-of-control, violent boozer by night. Kofer’s colleagues have somehow failed to report previous reports by Josie.

Author Grisham’s at it again, detailing every iota of a legal journey that slowly but surely reveals the motivations of young Drew. Matters aren’t assisted by the fact Kofer didn’t actually kill Josie, but rather KO’d her when he smashed her jaw to pieces. Kids couldn’t tell the difference.

Brigance, normally highly regarded too, is suddenly on the nose. He finds himself facing assault, obstruction, loss of business and income, and wholesale disdain. But as Drew’s murder trial unfolds, Brigance makes it  clear Kofer was an appalling piece of work.

The more he reveals – cover-ups, bashings, rapes –  the more Kofer’s friends dig their heels in, even on the jury, which can’t come up with any better than a split vote.

Thing here is that Grisham takes 464 pages to relate every miniscule detail he can think of, robbing an otherwise fast-paced story of its momentum. The jury’s selection is mind-numbing.

And given everything that’s painstakingly turned to ordure for Brigance through the course of the tale, it is nothing short of remarkable how Grisham pulls together a happy-ever-after ending in a matter of a few final pages.

Verdict: Contrived and silly. Why would an entire town think a small kid shoots a cop just for kicks when his mother has been smashed and broken by the bloke, when he and his sister are next in line, and when the cops won’t do anything to protect them?

Then again, looking at the kind of rubbish too many people in the failed state of America believe these days, Grisham might be closer to the mark than I’m crediting him.

Facts first casualty in the truth wars

If you think crying fake media is the first refuge of the scoundrel, you’ll be delighted to hear what might happen if you put artificial intelligence, revisionist history and political ultra-idealism all in the one room.

Yeah, yeah, should you really care? Maybe not, this is fiction after all, loopy theory at best. And it hangs loosely on the premise of an unnamed US president who rearranges facts into fiction at will.

If a galoot can ignore history and reality willy-nilly and get away with it, what might happen if some sharper tools in the sack decided to do likewise?

Like some shifty Holocaust deniers and US slavery deniers with a knack for picking holes in survivors’ accounts, and doing so in high-profile court cases. What might happen if, suddenly, the primary sources used to defend against such attacks disappeared?

We’re talking disappeared from the great libraries, museums and repositories of the world holding them, and from all the hidey-holes in cyber-space. A latter-day burning of the Library at Alexandria. Lots of smoke, lots of screen vacuums.

Without references, without the books and diaries and letters and official documents that hold our history, and without techno back-ups, did any of it really happen?

And what might happen if historians, academics, survivors and other high-profile figures are suddenly being killed off as well? And bookshops firebombed?

Maggie Costello is the poor sap charged with figuring the who, how and why of it all. A former special assistant to the president she’s whip-smart but a sucker for punishment.

She’s targeted by would-be killers, goes viral in a manufactured sex tape, has her voice replicated in fake conversations, half-frozen, half-baked and hung out to dry, by herself, as an emotional, lovelorn basket-case.

Frailty and courage face off with a clutch of semi-deranged college alumni convinced that the only way forward to world peace is eradicate the past. War, they argue, is simply a revenge fixation – which humans are happy to exploit back into deep time. Get rid of the official record and peace might stand a chance.

Deranged hippies with degrees, basically. But someone has a lot of money and a lot of high-tech nouse because the world’s libraries and museums are all going up in smoke one by one: in London, Oxford, Cairo, Moscow, Addis Ababa, Kolkata, Mexico City … and no amount of security seems capable of stopping the book-burning inferno.

Maggie very quickly becomes persona non grata but with the aid of a former love interest working in the shadows, deftly pokes into the right corners and spaces where such feverish plots might be hatched.

Armed with a college incubator checklist, she throws all caution and good sense to the wind as she homes in on her target. But wait, there’s a twist you don’t expect. And then another. And wait up again, there’s also …

Okay, go find out for yourself. This scoundrel’s not telling.


By Sam Bourne










Suicide Freddie: Olympic daredevil, rake, gun-runner, diamond smuggler

Dirty rotten scoundrels don’t come much bigger, better or more reckless than Aussie-born, international high-society gatecrasher Freddie McEvoy.

McEvoy was a swashbuckler, a daredevil race driver, world bobsled champion, Olympic medallist, a gambler, diamond smuggler, gun-runner, suspected Nazi spy … and one of the most expensive, most highly-chased male escorts in Europe.

Freddie supposedly killed a man in a Marseilles bar-room brawl. Coupled with his athleticism, humour, refined charm and extraordinary network of filthy rich and royal friends, it made him irresistible to women.

Rich and powerful women.

He married some of the world’s richest women: Standard Oil heiress Beatrice Cartwright – he was 33, she was 62 – heiress Irene  Wrightsman, and a wealthy French-Algerian fashion model Claude Filatre.

He might have married the world’s richest woman, old pal Barbara Hutton, in between but made the blunder of introducing her to a Russian mate, Prince Igor Troubetzkoy. It didn’t last.

Along the way he tupped with Nazi spy Sandra Rambeau and a raft of dripping-rich society and titled dames – they were a weakness. McEvoy was sought not just for his boudoir skills but as a status symbol. Stepping out with Freddie showed they could afford him.

Smooth operator, charmer, Lothario, rogue, philanderer, rake, whatever you want to call him, Freddie was equally a great weakness for women. Adjectives for this impeccably-mannered playboy included debonair, witty, charming, fascinating and elegant.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, his best friend was another smooth-talking Aussie satyr, Captain Blood himself, Errol Flynn.

Far from any celebrity hanger-on, if Freddie Mac was anything to Flynn it was a role model on how to develop and execute his wicked, wicked ways. They’d met as teenagers in Queensland then again in London in 1934 where they became thicker than thieves.

They were brawlers, drinkers, gamblers and womanisers par excellence. After Flynn hit the big time, they made the Hollywood Rat Pack of the 1960s look like choirboys.

When Flynn was facing prison on rape charges in LA in 1942, the biggest celebrity story of the year, Freddie was ready with car and hired muscle to break him from court and escape to Mexico. Flynn, with whom McEvoy has played bit parts in his movies, was acquitted and the two retired to his Mulholland Drive ranch to take up the cavorting and carousing where they’d left off.

Proudly a man of no visible means, the Maseratis, grand yachts, French Riviera lifestyle and tuxedos of ‘Suicide Freddie’ – as he was nicknamed for his speed freak addiction – were also part financed by a variety of his own means; from brokering meetings of rich wannabes with society to smuggling between LA and Mexico on Flynn’s yacht.

Guns, diamonds, whiskey, cigarettes, people … it was all great fun and adventure for Freddie. That is, until sailing a yacht from the south of France to the Bahamas with some ex-SS Nazis, he came unstuck.

Shipwrecked off the coast of Morocco, he and wife Claude were washed up dead, their heads so pulverised they were thought to be scalped. Two others were washed up, naked, while two more were washed off the yacht while it was being battered on rocks.

Three others, the Nazis, survived. They reported that Freddie had been fearless aboard the sinking craft, swimming 200 metres to shore for help and then back to the boat when he couldn’t find any.

He hauled his wife almost ashore but 20 metres from safety they disappeared in the crashing surf. So the story goes.

What really happened is anyone’s guess.


By Frank Walker