Murder sequel has charm galore

Halligan, Marion: Murder on the Apricot Coast. Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest, 2008. RRP $21.95. ISBN 978 1 74175 384 4

Murder on the Apricot Coast, by Marion Halligan Marion Halligan has a fine appreciation of the literary process linking author and reader. She begins her latest novel as Jane Eyre ends: 'Reader, I married him'. She then teases the reader with a critique of sequels and argues that only the reader's imagination can extend the lives of literary characters.

Narrator Cassandra Travers met 'him', Al Marriott, the eponymous Apricot Colonel (Marion Halligan, 2006), when editing his Iraq War memoir and they solved a murder mystery set among Canberra's café society.

Cassandra and the Colonel have complementary skills. He is an enigma with secrets and he refers to his past career only obliquely. Cassandra uses her knowledge of words and characters to solve mysteries.

A couple of their acquaintance lose their daughter Fern, who struck Cassandra as 'beautiful with a ... mass of dark hair and huge dark eyes. The maiden in the wall painting, picking flowers in a field. Graceful. A bit melancholy.' These brief, sometimes verbless 'sentences' convey a narrator's thoughts and speech well, although the decision to eschew quotation marks grates sometimes.

Cassandra lives for literature. Her late father introduced her to the delights of reading and she enriches reality with remembered themes, plots and snippets of prose. When editing a messy manuscript she says that 'a book is about language as well as its subject' and that 'unless the words delight us there is no charm in reading it'.

Fern's death was apparently due to an accidental drug overdose, but she was studying creative writing and left behind a laptop with a memoir suggesting she paid her uni fees with sex work. When Al wonders whether it is fact or just fiction Cassandra laughs and objects, 'Just fiction'. She reminds him of literary hoaxes in which authors feigned experiences to boost sales: 'I'm a fiction person remember. I accept the truth of fiction. When it's honestly told.'

Cassandra is so calm and contented that no grizzly discovery disturbs her sunny outlook. The memoir's revelation that Asian children are imported and used horrifically fails to shock and when some students kidnap Cassandra believing she has the laptop, she finds that her kidnapper is a frustrated novelist and advises him to read more.

Perhaps it is all the green tea with lemongrass and ginger, or else the fine Riesling Cassandra consumes. Perhaps narrator Cassandra cannot dislike people or speak negatively about them, so not even the villains appear repulsive. On the available evidence Marion Halligan enjoys her work so much that her writing has charm galore.

Murder on the Apricot Coast (Allen and Unwin)

Tony SmithTony Smith holds a PhD in political science. He has taught at several universities, most recently at the University of Sydney.


Topic tags: Tony Smith, book review, Murder on the Apricot Coast, Marion Halligan, ISBN 978 1 74175 384 4



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