Rural Australia is both developing and narrowing. The selling out of Australia to foreign interests has resulted in multitudes of country towns closing down and officially ceasing to exist. Centralizing the displaced has become the solution to the increasing shortage of food and resources. Generational land ownership comes to a forced end, and for the residents of the bush communities, the country of their birth is becoming unrecognizable.
Compassionately and carefully constructed to be something quite precious, CLOSING DOWN is a novel that does not attempt to create an fantastical and unbelievable landscape of future Australia. Instead, it takes concerns already present in our current debate and presents their possible eventualities, some of these being the erosion of our national identity, the issue of climate change, and the strangulation of enterprise by unnecessarily pedantic overview and the repeated lashings of bureaucratic red tape. Presenting a possible composite result of where our cultural fears may lead us, CLOSING DOWN illustrates the concerns and divides of living in a country at the bottom of the world that faces unique challenges not only due to its geographic location and harsh environment, but also because of how it may be considered to be a soft target in the global community.
There are supernatural elements in this book that add curious little vignettes to the storylines of both Clare and Roberto. They shouldn't really work in the context of what is often a gritty slog through dread and dissolution but somehow they do. If you're seeking clarity throughout your read you may often be disappointed as the novel can often seem to be meandering about rather than moving purposefully.
The specifics of living in a such an narrowing society has altered the citizens living within its constraints. In CLOSING DOWN this has not only affected the behaviours of its people of its animals as well. As society erodes, the manic activity of centralization and conformity continues to charge senselessly ahead and the bewilderment experienced by the characters in this novel is both relatable and frightening. It's a huge testament to the author that all the ingredients included in this book have not resulted in a work so bleak that there appears to be no way free of its gloom. Somewhere between the governmental guidelines are lives continuing to be lived in CLOSING DOWN, largely in ignorance, and increasingly in fear, but being lived regardless.
Review - THE FOREVER WATCH, David Ramirez
The Noah: a city-sized ship, half-way through an eight-hundred-year voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened.
It is arguable that The Forever Watch is not a crime novel. If you were going to get hard and fast in genre terms you would sit it on the science fiction shelf in the bookshop. For starters, The Forever Watch is set on a massive spaceship called Noah which is carrying the remnants of humanity fleeing a ravaged Earth on a thousand year journey to a new home. It features a rigid social and political structure and characters with enhanced mental powers. And it toys with plot strands that involve alien contact and artificial intelligence. So far so scifi. But the true heart of this novel, and the driver of at least its first two thirds, is moulded along the lines of a classic procedural/detective story.
The plot revolves around Hana Dempsey, a high level town planner who is drawn into the investigation of a series of bloody murders by her policeman lover Barrens. Barrens is investigating the death of his former mentor who was found ripped apart by a killer that he has nicknamed “Mincemeat”. And it turns out that his mentor is not the only victim. Not only are seemingly random people being killed in the most gruesome way, but it seems that the authorities are doing their best to cover the crimes up. As in all good crime novels, their investigation allows a deep exploration of the world in which Hana and Barrens live as what starts as an attempt to solve a small number of incidents escalates outwards and layers of secrets are exposed. The plot is carefully structured around multiple layers of secrets, some so deep that even thinking about them can be dangerous, and they continue to be revealed right up to the final pages.
In many crime novels, the crime is solved, the mystery is wrapped up and the world moves on. But Ramirez is not satisfied with that and The Forever Watch does something in its final act that crime novels tend to skirt around. Ramirez explores the consequences not only of the keeping of secrets by authorities but what might happens when those secrets start to come to light, particularly in a closed society.
The Forever Watch is first and foremost a fabulous piece of world building. Ramirez manages to successfully juggle a number of science fiction standards and produce something startlingly original. There is very little exposition as Ramirez drops the reader straight into first person present narration of Hana Dempsey. As a result, it takes time to get across all of the nuances of the world of the Noah, but the effort is worth it. And the whole package is made more enticing by the crime elements which drive the reader in and through this world.