Violence Breaks Out
JUST LET ME BE, a novel by Jon Cleary.— Werner Laurie,
TON CLEARY is still plough- ing the same furrow that won him second prize in the 1946 "Herald" novel contest with
"You Can't See Round Corners." Like the earlier one, this new novel has baccarat and two-up schools and violence of the under- world lurking in the background and occasionally becoming a vital part of the plot.
Joe Brennan has come back from the war tired of killing and strife and violence. "Just Let Me Be," the title of the novel, is just about the sum total of his wishes for the future. He might have battled for a career as a commercial artist once, but now he is content to deliver milk around Coogee way, because the job is quiet and safe, and as soon as there is any let-up in the housing shortage he will be able to marry Connie and settle down to unadventurous domesticity.
Joe's brother, Harry, was too young for the war. So he has the world to battle still. With his loud clothes and his cocksure manner he is quite confident of the result of the battle, and quite confident that his milk-round is just one stage in his climb to success—not any parti- cular success, but just something that will reveal the world as his oyster somehow. Meanwhile the two-up school and his victories over the wide boys there are a start.
Then it is not Harry, but cautious Joe, who becomes involved in a vio-
lent crime—Joe who in the darkness of his early morning round dis- covers Bill Pepper, the proprietor of the two-up school, being attacked viciously by an Italian youth armed with a knife. It is Joe who whirls into the defence with methods learned at unarmed-combat schools, who accidentally kills the attacker, and nervously hides the body at Bill Pepper's urging.
Cleary builds up the tension cleverly. There are not only visits from the police, at home and on the beach. There is the Italian's elder brother to consider, Lou Ricci, baccarat king, underworld character and sworn avenger of his brother's death. No one will let Joe "be." No one will let his vision of simple contentment with Connie become a fact, and it takes more threats and more deaths to bring the story to its logical conclusion.
Cleary does capture well the
ordinary life of a Sydney suburb. The glimpse of a family photo in the hall, the housewife sweeping the front steps, the fragment of con- versation as two brightly-frocked girls hurry by to work—that is the morning scene in the street. In the evening inside the semi-detached cottage, where the Brennans live, dad is busily studying his racing charts and mum is hurrying to get through dinner so that she will be in time for the local housie game. The family banter, dad's pathetic efforts to assert his own importance, young Tim's lightning bursts of cheek, come through deftly.
So is life at the beach sketched in clearly, the local blondes, the idle chatter, the fierce sun and the cool- ing waves; and life in the loading yard among the smell of milk and horses as the tired milkmen start their round.
The details are exact. The dia- logue, slangy but not self-conscious, is convincing. On the other hand there are a number of characters who never emerge as more than routine and conventional figures. Joe is someone we can understand, because his thoughts and feelings are carefully explained to us. Most of the others are just faces passed
in the street or types we recognise
from other novels.
There is also the uncomfortable feeling in reading a promising novel like this that the author, by mixing in crooks and violence, is fobbing us off with a thriller when he might be creating a really important piece of fiction based on the Australian scene that he has grasped so well.