I’m not normally much of a follower of book-related awards because it’s quite rare that I see the same qualities in a book as the judges have seen (that’s the most polite way I can think of to say “they’re wrong and I’m right” though of course that’s what I believe).
However, being a blogger of things relating to Australian crime fiction I feel it’s my duty to at least keep an eye on local awards, one of which is the Ned Kelly Awards which have been ‘promoting and encouraging crime writing since 1995’ (though not I must say through their website which is woefully out of date and almost completely lacking in useful information).
One of the three books on the shortlist for best fiction in last year’s award was Lenny Bartulin’s THE BLACK RUSSIAN which caught my eye because the author’s name was not familiar to me. OK I’ll be honest and say it might also have caught my eye because a Black Russian is my favourite cocktail, especially the way my brother makes them, eschewing the niceties of measuring and serving them in bucket-sized glasses. But I digress.
I picked up a copy of the novel in an ‘Aussie crime fiction shopping spree’ earlier this year and have plucked it from my shelves this long weekend, which due to its sunniness, length and chocolate-induced afternoon comas seemed to call for a lighter kind of reading.
So far (I’m about a hundred pages in) it’s a hoot. It tells the story of Jack Susko, a second hand bookseller in Sydney who is a long way short of making ends meet. Jack is a bystander in an armed robbery but things turn sour when one of the robbers involves him in a double cross. Here is the first paragraph of chapter 1…
Jack Susko was grateful., but it was not the kind of inheritance that changed your life. Twenty-year-old, functional Japanese family sedans in light metallic blue had never been high on the list of all-time top one hundred things in the world you could inherit. Even if it came with faux-sheepskin covers and an interior that smelt intensely of fruit of the forest, no matter how long you kept the windows open. If he was a little disappointed with Aunt Eva’s generosity at the end of her life, it was that the air-conditioning did not work. And right now the radio said it was thirty-eight degrees Celsius in the city. Jack was on Oxford Street, at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, with traffic tight and stalled behind a broken-down bus. And it had been a long day. And he was still hustling his weary trade in weary books. And he had not smoked a cigarette for almost seventeen-and-a-half hours.
This drew me in right away – telling me enough about Jack to get me interested and setting a scene I am all too familiar with. I love it when a book doesn’t leave me hanging around ’til page 30 or more to let me know it’s going to be my kind of thing.
I don’t think the book has anything to do with cocktails but there are another 150 pages to go before the end so you never know.