Dark clouds on the mountain
Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2010
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.