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Murder & Morality
"You Cant Sec Round Corners," by Jon Cleary - winner of the Second Prize. A STORY about Sydney which
takes the city for granted is still a rare enough thing to be re- marked upon; and you could say of this swift and powerful. story that it could have happened any- where, except- that its people are unobtrusively and indelibly Sydney
VOU could remember the story 1 simply by remembering the streets and places: the corner of Oxford Street and Park Road where Frankie McCoy used to meet his fiancee, Margie, the "same place, same time," which became the symbol of her betrayal; Centennial Park, where Margie said no so often and so re- luctantly; York Street, Elizabeth Street, Hyde Park, and the tram out to his mother's home at Padding- ton in the early morning when he had deserted from camp; the lane alongside the Regent Theatre, where he stowed his bottle of whisky up a drain, plugging it in with newspaper, so that he could collect Myra from the Trocadero, where whisky was not
allowed; Elizabetn ¡street, wnere uicy
turned left, swung around the bend of Hyde Park, crossed the Square, and walked down Macquarie Street, past the hospital and Parliament House, round the Mitchell Library in to the Domain and across the grass toward the Art Gallery; the long grass in the thick shadows late at night behind the Art Gallery, where Myra did not say no one night, but did say no on the night when Frankie McCoy murdered her
Let us not embarrass the author and the reviewer by saying how well this book reproduces the long grass in the thick shadows late at night behind the Art Gallery in the Domain. The point is that the author is so pre- occupied with his story that the local colour, which hides most Australian books like a smokescreen, rarely has a chance to stay still, and it is hard to disentangle the scene, speech and action, so closely do they move for- ward together with the story. In the same way, a great deal of his
best portraiture is in the intonation, as when Frankie McCoy begins eyeing over Meg, the landlady's niece, who has cooked his breakfast in the kit- chen in the little Paddington pub:
" 'Stick to the eggs,' she said. 'This don't come with the board and lodg-
" 'Is it against the house rules to
" 'The way you were, it is.' There was no annoyance in her voice; she had the situation well in hand, as if she had faced it many times before.
" 'Sharp, aint you?' He juggled egg on his fork then raised it to his
" 'I've read the Little Blue Books.
What Every Young Girl Should "
" 'And what do you know?'
"'That you aint getting anywhere.' He looked at her, chewing on, egg and toast, then he grinned and she smiled back.
" 'I think you and me are going to get on all right,' he said.
" '1 think so.' She turned back to the stove then looked over her shoulder. 'But don't look at me again like that. I don't like it.' Her voice was not sharp, but friendly; she could have been telling him she did not like asparagus or some male film
You could hardly be Australian and not know Meg; and maybe you have also met Myra:
"I'm not a harlot, Frankie. 1 hadn't seen Tom for six months be- fore we broke it off and there's been no one since. The other night was
the first time."
"Why'd you pick on me?"
"T DIDNT pick on you, Frankie.- I
1 know 1 look pretty sexy and I sup- pose 1 like to look that way. But 1 don't go hunting men. But after I'd been with you a while the other night I knew what you were thinking of and it didn't seem to matter."
But Myra comes to life most in the murder scene, and it would be hard to quote her few words that ride their context as perfectly as the ¿roth on a constantly breaking surf. And it would be as hard to separate Mar- gie from the book; but here is a
"We want our money, McCoy."
His voice was -.thin and flat, too, squeezed from the hard unfeeling tube of his body. "We don't like welshers. We want it or else."
The words were ridiculous and McCoy laughed, but nervously. "Are you playing gangsters?"
"Whatever we are, we ain't play- ing. We given you two weeks now and we ain't even smelt the money. You're starting to smell now. We want eighteen quid and we want it
From all of which it will be seen that this is a tough-guy novel; and it has the main characteristics (of the American original, the swift action, the steady rise to an inevitable cli- max, the sharp hard talk, the bored wisecracking, the down-to-earth love scenes-but with certain exceptions.
'THE cynicism of thel American 1 tough-guy story .is made possible by separating the hero from any chains of family or friends, whereas Frankie McCoy has a mother, and that means a conscience; and so, instead of being a record of lust and violence meet- ing a blind fate, the novel becomes a history of the moral progression
of a young S.P. bookmaker from Army desertion to murder.
At 21, established as bookmaker to his local pub, Frankie McCoy is called up, and after several efforts to buck the Army, decides that, rather than go on a charge sheet, he will desert. He comes back to S.P. book making, living as a civilian in the pub, but having lost touch with racing form, begins to lose slowly and steadily. Meanwhile, his fiancee, Margie, having a brother -in the Army, throws him over because of his desertion, and Frankie McCoy solaces himself with Myra Neilson, whom he meets in a dance hall. She wears tight dresses-"she believes in giving the world a look at the Neil-
Harried by1 winning bettors whom he cannot pay, Frankie McCoy robs a butcher's safe on Saturday night, and goes to forget his troubles once more with Myra behind the Art Gal- lery. Up to this point the progres
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Murder & Morality (Continued from previous page)
- sion, of desertion, betting, drinking,
fornication, and theft has been won- derfully sustained; but at this point many an author has failed.
But the author does not miss a trick. From a comparatively simple build-up the action comes to a most ' complex and delicately contrived
climax. Myra hoped she had found a future husband, but a casual un- thinking word from McCoy shows ' her that she can forget about that
completely; with rage and mortifica- tion she refuses herself to him, and when he persists she bites him savagely. .
McCoy, in an "hysteria of anxiety to which army desertion, the scorn of his fiancee, the threats of his credi- tors, and the nervousness of his recent theft all contribute, suddenly loses his self-control, and, full of bad whisky, strangles her in a struggle to possess her, and bashes her face to pulp with his fist.
The treatment of this scene," especi- ally of the girl's attitude and chang- ing moods, is wonderfully convincing; nor does the author allow the interest to fall here, but goes on to a record of suspense over broadcasts and Press reports of the crime, and to a meeting -with Margie, whose efforts to help a man who cannot tell her what is the matter with him intensify the sympathy we have for McCoy.
It is a sympathy which has horror in it. since there is enough humanity ¡n McCoy to remind any honest reader of" himself. Here is a book of tough people, tough language, and tough loves which could be more effective than sermons against illegal betting, over-drinking, bucking auth- ority, and theft; and a book which by its frank and discerning exposition of the loves of two women shows how much more dangerous to a woman is a man's lack of insight, than his will to harm her. Which is a lesson worth turning a novel into a moral treatise for, although it is only by implica- tion that one can speak of this book as a moral treatise. .