The body of a local teenage boy is found on the beach of a sleepy northern New South Wales town. David went for an evening swim and got into trouble… at least, that’s what it looks like.
Three weeks before, Leila, a young backpacker, didn’t turn up for her shift at the local cafe. Benny, the owner, isn’t worried. It happens – backpackers are always on the move. There’ll be another one.
One of the locals, Adrian, has been a help to Benny. He’s found him a nice little sideline. Not exactly legal. Is that all Adrian is arranging on the coast? He once was a cop but has he gone bad?
And in the backblocks outside town, a bikie gang is gearing up for a large consignment from South America.
Murder, drugs, liaisons and lies are stirring up this small coastal town.
With Bryan Brown’s characteristic laconic storytelling – humorous, tough and suspenseful – the secrets of this seemingly idyllic town slowly come to the surface.
One of Australia’s most successful and recognisable actors, Brown has been a household name – and face – since the 70s. Given he’s been pretty busy getting more than eighty films and TV shows under his belt, I guess we can forgive him for not turning to writing sooner! Brown’s debut short story collection, Sweet Jimmy, was published in 2021 and sold over 16,000 copies. Now, his distinctive storytelling voice continues in this unflinching, gripping novel.
The Drowning opens from the perspective of David, the teenage boy who is murdered. Very soon we’re seeing events from the killer’s perspective. Then, local Wanda. And so on. The pace barrels forward, with no time for sentimentality. Brown’s clipped, spare sentences land like unrelenting punches, or waves on the shore.
At first, The Drowning seems dead set on forging an arrow-straight line through the tragic, brutal crime at its centre. Soon, however, we begin to circle back through time, across Australia, and around the globe. With no central narrator, no ‘hero’ to grab onto, the book’s dazzling array of perspectives cocoons the central crime in an ever-thickening web of complex backstories. Each imperfect character is just trying to get on with their own problems in the wake of a tragic event, until more than one of them develops ‘a nag’ that just won’t let up… and so the mystery starts to unravel.
The Drowning has all the hallmarks of great Aussie crime writing. There’s the sleepy coastal town, with its stunning natural facade harbouring more than its fair share of secrets. A cast of memorable and flawed characters – a diverse mix of locals and blow-ins – who all have a little too much to do with one another. A sexy undercurrent – mostly of the back-of-the-van-overlooking-the-beach variety. An unflinching take on tough themes, including family violence and Indigenous incarceration. And a race toward the finish line that has us flying through the pages to find out how such a tangled story could possibly be resolved.
Not a peep more from me – Brown’s punchy prose makes this novel absolutely devourable, and all will be revealed in due time. The Drowning is highly recommended holiday reading.