In Matt Nable’s absorbing, if not slightly unevenly paced crime novel “Still,” Senior Constable Ned Potter discovers the body of an Aboriginal man face down in the shallow edge of a swamp.
The man has been viciously beaten and shot twice — and nobody seems to care. Not Potter’s colleagues in the small-town constabulary, nor its mayor, or its citizenry. This is early-sixties Darwin, and the town — like the country — is mired in prejudice. Racism doesn’t simmer under the surface; it’s ablaze. And Potter’s not convinced he has the courage to make a stand. If anything, he’s feeling the pressure to acquiesce to the demands of the corrupt forces in charge.
Charlotte Clark is increasingly discontent with her lot in life. At 23, she is married to one of its ne’er do well’s, destined to remain shackled to a man and town she has lost all affection for, with dreams of what might await beyond the borders of the Territory. A chance meeting with a stranger offers an opportunity to escape the life she has; but not necessarily a life society will understand or accept.
Nable is a clean storyteller whose prose is unembroidered with philosophical asides. He has a filmic approach, perhaps a tip of the cap to his acting career and a lifetime reading scripts. “Still” bounces from scene to scene, cutting between a clutch of well-drawn characters, but principally Ned and Charlotte. It’s not quite a mystery like “The Dry” or “Scrublands,” as the antagonists are exposed in the omniscient third person narration early on; it’s more an exploration of morality and corruption, its tension derived from the readers’ desire to see the bad guys brought to justice. The line between cop and criminal has never been so opaque.
The first half of “Still” is superb, Nable ably sketching his characters, layering his plot, and pockmarking his text with evocative descriptions of the disparate landscape, equal parts lush and rough. Its final act wobbles faintly under the weight of all that’s built before it, as the narrative jumps weeks, then months ahead in time, offering some interesting revelations, but galloping forward with such abandon, the narrative loses some of its earlier elasticity. But Nable sure knows how to keep the pages turning, and “Still” is a welcome and exciting addition to Outback Noir.
Number Of Pages: 336
Available: 26th May 2021
Publisher: Hachette Australia