When I started making this list, I had more than 40 books scrawled on a piece of paper. Getting it down to 20 books was difficult. Whittling it down to 10 was excruciating. I could actually feel it in my gut each time I crossed one out. Fact is, this list would probably be slightly different depending on the day you asked me to make it. On any other day, Favel Parrett’s There Was Still Love, Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, and R.W.R. McDonald’s The Nancys — not to mention a whole host of others — might’ve made it. But ultimately I think my Top 10 fairly and evenly represents the books that I think stand above the rest this year.
When Vernon Moore learns his son Caleb — in gaol for assaulting his wife, and abandoned by his parents as a result — is being regularly brutalised by Brendan Cahill, he decides to intervene and negotiate a truce with Brendan’s father. But Vernon’s decision to approach Ernie Cahill, the head of Newbury’s drug-dealing operation, sets off an unstoppable chain of escalating violence.
Ben Hobson’s second novel is about the darkness of our hearts, and the search for lost light within them. Snake Island is not a tale of redemption, although you might catch glimpses of it. This is a book about actions and their consequences; big and small, and irrevocable. It is a violent, visceral and gripping tale about the cyclic, destructive nature of revenge; an exploration of the spectrum of morality, and the purity of hate versus the complexity of love and forgiveness, told in brisk declarative sentences that possess the cadence of a shotgun blast. The small town ambience is real enough to smell and taste; a good thing too, because I’m not sure I want to visit.
Hobson’s characters spend the novel searching for their moral centre, desperately scrabbling for a reference point against which they may measure their decision, actions, and beliefs as they’re sucked into a vortex created by violence and corruption. Its only true villains are the two members of the Melbourne drug syndicate the Cahill’s work for; whose menacing presence reminded me of Anton Chigurh in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men; everybody else is ordinary, fallible, and desperate.
As fast-paced as any thriller, Snake Island is one of my favourite books of the year so far. It is dark, lean and mean; an absolute pearler of a read.