Reviewed by Rod McLary
Many older readers would readily recall the 1970s and 1980s in Queensland. Corruption seemed to be everywhere despite university students – and others – marching and protesting. Who can forget the sight of a police officer striking a young protester on the head during a street march in Brisbane? Who can forget the Fitzgerald Inquiry of the late 1980s and what was uncovered about some of our politicians and police?
It is within this political and social context that Frank Chalmers has set his debut novel Conviction. Detective Senior Constable Ray Windsor is exiled to a police station in Western Queensland as a consequence for his defying a senior officer’s [corrupt] orders. What he finds there is a hotbed of unsolved crimes, corruption and prejudice – all present in a town suffering drought and the desertion of its young people. He also finds two police officers – Detectives Kennedy [‘cock of the fucking walk’] and Laming [‘mouth set to aggrieved’] – who are simply heartless and cruel. Their relationship with the incomer rapidly turns from initial dislike to hatred; and two attempts on Ray’s life may or may not have one or other behind the attempts.
Forming an alliance with Constable Arshag, Ray is determined to find the perpetrators of the abduction, rape and murder of two young teenagers both daughters of local immigrant families. In pursuing justice for the girls and their families, Ray is brought into direct confrontation with Kennedy and Laming with dire consequences for everyone.
But to balance the violence, a softer side to Ray emerges as he settles into his new life. He is brought almost to tears when he begins coaching some of the teenagers in boxing. As the story progresses, Ray’s backstory is gradually revealed and, surprising him as much as the reader, he discovers he has family links with a couple of people in the district. He forms close friendships with some of the people he meets and has a more intimate relationship with a teacher at the local high school. However, he remains fearful of ‘enmeshment’ and maintains his emotional distance as best he can.
There is an interesting subplot involving William Wallace [known locally as Lord Billy] – the mayor of the district – who at first glance appears to be above board with the town’s best interests at heart. But as this subplot unfolds, Ray begins to realise he is being played and William is not as pure in motive as he pretends.
Conviction is a hard-hitting and sometimes confronting read. The author does not shy away from describing the worst aspects of some of the townspeople and of the corrupt police officers’ language, behaviour and misogynistic attitudes. The language is raw and at times unstinting – but, at the same time, there is an authenticity which immediately engages the reader. The author has a fine ear for dialogue and the exchanges between the characters consistently ring true. His lengthy career as a scriptwriter shines throughout the novel; there is no contrivance and no sense that the conversations are there simply to advance the plot. The following exchange is a fine example of the author’s capturing the natural flow and rhythm of colloquial speech:
What do you do for kicks?
You as bored as you sound?
What’ve you got to offer?
You ride a motorbike?
Is a pig’s arse pork? 
Frank Chalmers has crafted with his debut novel a thriller which demands to be read – and will hold the reader from beginning to end. It is a not a crime novel in the traditional sense where a murder is committed, is investigated with all the red herrings and obfuscations, and concludes with the dénouement and exposure of the killer. This is a novel which takes the reader deep in the culture and milieu of a broken country town where corruption in its police and politicians is barely hidden, where the report of the death of a young girl warrants no more than ‘the barest details’ , and where ‘corruption is a poison’ . But it is a consistently fine read and well recommended.
Frank Chalmers is a graduate of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School; he has taught writing at high school and university. He has a forty-year career in writing scripts for drama, documentaries and corporate media.
by Frank Chalmers
Allen and Unwin
ISBN 978 176106 523 3
QRC has interviewed the author – Frank Chalmers. To read the interview, click here.