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Book Reviews - Summer 1997

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(Claire McNab, Allen & Unwin pb $14.95 RRP)

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Inner Circle

In the eighth of her Detective Inspector Carol Ashton mysteries, Claire McNab takes Ashton out of the familiar Sydney setting and into the underbelly of rural Australia.

Two bodies, murdered execution-style, are found on the lawn of a prominent right-wing State political demagogue. Ashton is put on the case while the politicians manoeuvre behind the scenes in damage control mode. The case leads to the town of Katamulla and the underworld of right-wing militia groups and global terrorism.

There are some nice touches in this book. The perceptive delineation of how rural squattocracy still holds sway in parts of the country, the way that Ashton is growing with each novel from a flawed and essentially fearful woman - a lesbian in the ultimate straight subculture - toward becoming a more balanced and self-knowing person.

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McNab's good ear for slang and jargon; the way that the geography of Katamulla, which is essential to the climax, is subtly conveyed and in a piece of impressively strong but humane writing, she unflinchingly reveals the necessary indignities of an autopsy without ever once letting the reader forget that the cadaver was once a person.

If there's anything to quibble about, it's that the climax seems a little hurried. But it can be argued that violent confrontations are fast and frantic, slow-motion cinematic mayhem not withstanding.

Terry Frost, February, 1997

* Involuntary President of ANZAPA

* Coffee God of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club

* Dolphin in a world of sharks.

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