Reviewed by Angela Marie
As he got closer to the middle of the river, Jed thought he could see bolts screwed into the top of the bin ….It looked like somebody wanted it closed up really tight ….Like they didn’t want what was in there to ever come out.
So commences the intertwining of the literal and the implied.
Through Wimmera we are introduced to Ben and Fab, best friends set free in 1989 to explore the nooks and crannies of a small country town and its environs.
Picture an Aussie childhood spent catching yabbies, playing cricket and camping. And where the great dream is the ownership of a pair of Nike Airs. But stop. Now picture this. Look under the shining surface. Look into the murky waters. See an Aussie childhood where the girl next door hangs herself from the Hills hoist, and where Ben, the protector of Fab, is powerless to defend Fab and his mother from the cruel blows of domestic violence. Feel the hint of danger lurking in a subterranean world. And realise that the fishing is definitely related to the catch.
Twenty years on, the perfect crime is no longer perfect, and there are consequences to pay. The tale, so embedded with hope, draws to its shocking conclusion.
Wimmera is woven in an unhurried, languid style which is a foil to the compelling need of the reader to know who is safe and who is not. Carefully strewing images and possibilities, the author, Mark Brandi, continues to expose more questions than answers. What is in the sealed garbage bin? Why does a young girl suicide? Why does a new neighbour befriend a child? What is the nature of friendship, and can bonds be so powerful that nothing can dissolve them? What does the photograph show? What is true justice?
Mark Brandi has written a bold first novel that leads the reader into a complex patchwork of suspense whilst employing the uncomplicated and casual language of youth and gossip. It is an easy book to read, often featuring the voice of a young boy, but not an easy read to digest. It is a macabre tale of the transition from the powerlessness of young adolescence to the hopes of manhood. Its gritty depiction of the sexual awakenings and desperation of the young may not make for a comfortable read, however, these elements are not included for mere sensation. They are crucial and integral to the storyline.
Wimmera may well be destined to become an Australian classic. This is a tale with substance. True, at its core it is a crime novel, and yet it is so much more. It is an exploration of how it is to be different, in this case, as a young person of Italian heritage in a small town. The author himself can grant authenticity to this. It presents bullying, offers up mateship, and describes the fear and confusion experienced when relationships exist in an imbalance of power. It explores trust and naivety in both adults and children, and documents the dispersal of evil.
Mark Brandi, a former policy advisor and criminal justice graduate, has been a prolific contributor both overseas and to The Age, The Guardian, The Big Issue and Radio National, among others. For this finely-crafted story, Mark was the recipient of the 2016 UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, a well-deserved honour.
By Mark Brandi
ISBN 978 0 7336 3845 9