Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Every now and again a book comes along that is different from the run of the mill yarn that crosses my desk with unfailing regularity. Pachyderm bubbles with the good humour of its creator. I mean if a character reports that he’s had his head up an elephant’s arse you’d want to read on, right? I was quickly persuaded that my understanding of elephants and other denizens of the zoo was really in need of refreshment. My perspective on life was a bit rusty.
Soon I was immersed. Almost immediately I was introduced to the heroine Catherine Kint and the elephant botherer Beau Hacska. These two share a romantic moment in the moonlight before Beau is called away to help with a sick elephant and Catherine comes across a number of people she does not care too much about. We learn Catherine is a milliner and is dragooned by a certain Philomena Kaboru into making a hat for Grace Chichester MP, a rival from school days. However, a murderer strikes and we are dropped into the middle of a ‘who-dunit’. We learn that Catherine and her favourite barman are also sleuths – very successful sleuths we soon find.
But also bloody annoying sleuths, not just to the police but also to the reader. One can have some sympathy for Boris the barman, but none for Catherine. Our “writer, musician and optimist” aka the author has created a zany Phryne Fisher cast-off who spends her days and much of her nights either drinking her gin, beer, anything alcoholic, or annoying the blazes out of the police, her prey, and her colleagues. This is what her creator intended but, an unintended spin-off is that she exasperates her readers as well. At least she does this reviewer. (But then he finds Phryne Fisher a complete turn-off too).
There are a number of comments or descriptions that appeal immensely the first time they are used but soon become cumbersome when re-used. Counting backwards in a foreign language, attempting to score off an old school enemy with tortuous philosophical grandstanding (or simply engaging in an endless discussion about the benefits of vegetarianism as distinct from vegan), pursuing smart repartee – in combination these utterances and the like suggest the writer is trying too hard. He needs to relax and let the humour flow. At his best he is very funny, but his work needs a firm editor. So much could have been made of Andy and his wretched whistling. This was a refreshing touch but went nowhere and succeeded as much as anything else in frustrating me.
The description of the police and their inability to grasp the fact that murder had happened on their patch might draw the ire of some readers. I don’t concur with this view. The information that was made available to them resulted in the sort of investigation that they would be expected to conduct. If there is any weakness it is in the unmasking of the murderer, an act in which the police played a minor part. The actions of Catherine and Boris were downright foolhardy and difficult to believe, while the solution to the crimes came in too facile a package to leave me satisfied.
It should not be concluded from the preceding comments that the book is a dog. It isn’t. It has a well-constructed plot that remains interesting throughout, its characters are finely-drawn and distinguishable by their speech and actions, and the setting of a zoo provides a host of ideas for scenarios which the author used to achieve a professional effect. In fact, the author’s prose flows effortlessly. He is a writer with a load of talent. Apart from the deficits already mentioned, his book is very enjoyable and is on the cusp of being marketable.
In many respects, the writer has done a fine job with this. That his writing is a tad raw in places should not condemn the book. (Beethoven took a while to gear up for his Ninth, after all!) The talent that is “rarin’ to go” needs an editor to trim the fat and expose the muscle. This writer could go far.
By Hugh McGinlay
Threekookaburras Pty Ltd