Retribution, Richard Anderson

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Book Synopsis

Perhaps if Sweetapple hadn’t stopped to help the idiots who had just near run him off the road in their ute, things may have gone entirely differently.

Times are tough for everybody and Graeme Sweetapple is making the best of what land he has left.  Once the Sweetapple family owned a working farm but now the holding is small, and Sweetapple is not producing enough of an income to support his dog, let alone fund his own needs.  A little work for a neighbour sometimes brings in the coin, as does Sweetapple’s occasional side hustle of stealing cattle.  It is the latter activity that Sweetapple is engaged in one night when he stops to helps two people out of a car wreck.  Both are activists from the site of a nearby coal mine, carrying some dangerous stolen goods in their vehicle. Before the cops get there, Sweetapple finds himself agreeing to take the dismantled parts of a bomb away in his truck, without the slightest clue of what it is he will do with them.

Sweetapple’s flighty young love interest Carson is not sure that Sweetapple should be doing any work at all for super shady Bob from next door, and that includes teaching Bob’s ex politician wife how to ride. Tasked to steal a gorgeous horse named Retribution for Bob, Sweetapple falls for the  mare and soon realizes he hasn’t been paying enough attention to Carson who has struck up a friendship with Luke, another town drifter with his own secrets and struggles to hide.  The three of them come together to form a plan of revenge when Bob reclaims Retribution from Sweetapple’s care.  The purity of hate sweeps across Sweetapple to meet destruction with destruction.

Book Review

The people in RETRIBUTION come across as quite desultory and disaffected so it’s a relief when they are given a purpose, doomed as it is.  Sweetapple, Carson and Luke are struggling to stay focused and it’s a diversion from their own mess when they band together to do some harm and make a stand.  Really hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of labelling this work ‘bush noir’ as whilst there’s illegal acts detailed within, RETRIBUTION is not what you might consider a work of crime fiction.   This is a drama novel set in the outback and as with most novels with a rural setting, the described environment is all important in framing not just the physical threats and boundaries, but also the potential mental isolation experienced by its characters.

RETRIBUTION drifts along with a sense of quiet desperation, showing how easy it can be to become trapped, either by economic circumstances or as a result of your own lassitude.  As with all small towns the residents have that toxic awareness that everyone else knows what they are up to at any given time, and that helps to craft the necessary close and tense atmosphere in this read.  There does spring the wish to cattle prod our three leads into being a little more proactive about the mess they’ve found themselves in.  Make no mistake, these people are suffocating and floundering for air. 

RETRIBUTION is an elegantly written novel that convincingly takes the reader to a place of both great beauty and deep ugliness.  The acute observations of Sweetapple about his position in life are piercingly bittersweet, interspersed as they are in a work about what it means to feel trapped and powerless to control your own future.  Can see that this book would be a fantastic choice for the all the book clubbers as there is an immense wealth of social issues contained within RETRIBUTION that would make great discussion topics.  

RETRIBUTION is the second novel of author and New South Wales cattle farmer Richard Anderson.

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