Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Roland Perry has been a regular figure on both the fiction and non-fiction landscapes for many, many years. I remember reviewing his non-fiction book The Changi Brownlow when it came out in 2010. That book, like the present volume, was thoroughly researched and particularly well told. It was short-listed for the Australian Booksellers Industry Award for non-fiction (2010).
Reviewing Roland Perry’s work is a constant battle with superlatives. Making a not-so-positive remark is like telling a College of Cardinals that the Pope is just an ordinary administrator. Yet Perry would have been the first to demand impartial review. Among the strengths of his work lies the unbowing obedience to scholarship, his plots that lead the reader from one valid point to the next. The Shaman is not quite like that. In most of his books he takes a particular issue – the misuse of uranium mining and the dangers of nuclear weapons in Blood is a Stranger, climate change and new energy in The Shaman.
Perry’s latest book puts forward the proposition that, by harnessing atomic energy from water, the shaman, a sophisticated faith-healer, has developed cold fusion technology. Now I don’t know what this stuff is, and I’m sure that most of my readers are lamenting their lack of a scientific education with me. The author tells us that it will replace combustion engines, revolutionize transport, revitalize power generation, and lead to the development of terrifying weaponry. Clearly, we can expect that other nations and individuals will be after the secret.
But this novel does not begin with the plot. There is action aplenty and thrills to spare. Victor Cavalier learns that his daughter lies in a coma following a motor-cycle collision, but then he hears that an unknown priest had prayed over her and she was instantly healed. Victor decides he must know more. While the book can be described as a thriller that has the complete recipe viz. murder, travel, a smidgen of sex, as well as plenty of intrigue, its plot must be described as a series of episodes looking for a story.
The early part of the book is structured as follows:
The hero’s daughter is healed by a mysterious shaman
The hero and the shaman are caught up in a gunfight that includes a bullet in the tyre of a fleeing car that is bouncing and twisting on a rough road
The shaman shoots a black snake that was about to launch an attack on Cavalier’s face
Bikies burst into a dwelling, intent on killing everybody, until they recognize the shaman, and everybody has several beers together.
And that takes us up to page 50. I suspect the book was written as a parody of crime fiction in general. We’re seeing Perry at his cleverest.
Character depiction is consistent throughout, rough language is used appropriately, and sufficient secondary detail is provided to keep the plot controlled. As with most Perry novels little time is spent on describing backgrounds or tone-setting venues where action takes place.
While I enjoyed the book, I had reservations. It is not completely like Perry.
By Roland Perry
Allen & Unwin
$29.99; 360 pp