Dark clouds on the mountain


Dark Clouds on the Mountain, John TullyReview

Dark clouds on the mountain

John Tully

Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2010

ISBN 9781921665035

John Tully’s second novel dips into the history and sociology of the working class in Tasmania, weaving in Nazi war crimes and death camps in the Ukraine, leftist campaigners for Palestinian human rights, right-wing antisemitism, domestic violence and much more.

The protagonist is that rarest of animals, a decent cop, Jack Martin, born Martinuzzi, son of an Italian communist and partisan fighter in the Balkans who survives the war only to be murdered in Hobart in 1948.

Martin’s investigation of a sudden and unusual spate of antisemitic attacks on the Hobart synagogue takes him into the 1990s Tasmanian left, including an establishment called Pursey’s Wholefood Shop; sad, rain-sodden, environmentally ruined Queenstown on Tasmania’s west coast and many points between, usually with a deft brief description and some point of interest from its history.

The story rattles along at a fast clip, with numerous vignettes of working class and Tasmanian life, all with “the immense Mountain brooding above the puny city, rocky, eternal and indifferent”. Also brooding over the story is Tasmania’s dark history as a convict colony, and the attempts to exterminate its indigenous population.

Tully is a socialist, and as Michael Hamel Green pointed out at the book’s launch, his fiction is reminiscent of Steig Larsson. No doubt the influence of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chander is also at work. Chandler gets a mention in the book.

This not the sort of book that gets reviewed by the right-wing cultural warriors of the Australian Literary Review, or in the Saturday reviews section in The Australian and it seems to have been too rich fare even for the slightly more liberal Fairfax Media reviewers.

The book could probably have done with a tougher edit, as some of the images, such as “huge-arsed underwear” occur more often than necessary. Once is enough, the picture is clear. But in these neoliberal times perhaps the publishing business can’t afford good editing.

Dark Clouds on the Mountain is stocked by the better class of bookshop, such as Readings in Melbourne and Gleebooks in Sydney, and it is available directly from the publisher’s website.


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2 Responses to “Dark clouds on the mountain”

  1. John Tully Says:

    Thanks for the generous review, Ed. Much appreciated. It is very difficult to break through the stranglehold that the big publishing firms in these neoliberal times. While some penny-a-liner hack did actually do a brief “review” in The Age a while back, I don’t think he’d actually read the book. There were some better efforts in the Adelaide Advertiser and the Hobart Mercury. I should perhaps add that the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre and the Hobart Bookshop have been very supportive. The novel actually made it into the top ten best sellers in Tasmania; understandable as it’s largely set there, but also because the local media and outlets were more supportive. Just one thing: it was actually Michael Hamel-Green, the dean of my faculty and a stalwart of the anti-Vietnam War movement in Melbourne in the 60s, who launched the book. I hope Harry would like it too, though!

  2. Ed Lewis Says:

    Whoops, yes of course it was Michael Hamel Green. I read his notes from the launch. I’ve corrected the text. I’m getting my non-Leninist old-time Melbourne lefties confused. Perhaps a sectarian throwback on my part.

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