Lead Review (The Pit)
- Book: The Pit
- Location: The Kimberley, The Pilbara, Western Australia
- Author: Peter Papathanasiou
The novel opens in the South Westerly area of Western Australia, to wit Perth/Whadjuk Noongar Country in 2017. Here, Senior Constable Andrew Smith (a police office of aboriginal heritage, nicknamed Sparrow) takes a phone call from a Mr Robert Cooper (Bob) – a resident in a nursing home – and he indicates that he committed a murder at the beginning of the 1980s. The area of burial is way up north, in the Kimberley “..the northernmost region of Western Australia. Bordered to the west by the Indian Ocean, to the north by the Timor Sea, to the east by the Northern Territory, and to the south by two of the worlds largest deserts. It was the territory that was breathtakingly beautiful, seldom visited, and barely habitable.” It is the “engine room of the country’s mining boom” which attracted all kinds of scum and outlaws, as well as those hoping to make a killing (not always literally).
The focus in this novel is Sparrow, in the absence of the author’s previous protagonist, namely Sparrow’s superior DS George Manolis, who is currently on stress leave in Greece (and in fact his previous novel – The Invisible – Manolis is in Greece, investigating crime there, even though he is supposed to be taking time out).
“The brown draughty tufts of Australia blurred by, spindly trees and snappy fumes like skeletal claws reaching out of the earth, bent and twisted into mangled abstraction. In the distance, mountains loomed out of the sky, while the rumble of machines shattered the silence of spinifex country,….”
Bob entices Sparrow to accompany him on the long and interminable journey north, to dig up the skeleton of his victim. He has purloined a HiAce. Accompanying them is Luke, a young and angry paraplegic, who also lives in the care home. And thus begins the odyssey over thousands of kilometres, spanning different terrains, getting hotter and more dangerous the further North they travel.
This is real adventure fiction, where setting is a part of the storyline. There is a lightness of touch, describing the outlaws and their adventures (it transpires that Bob stole the car from the home and didn’t ask permission to take young Luke on the journey).
Part of the novel set at the point of Bob’s previous life further north, where the killing took place and it is very revealing about the hardship surrounding the mining industry back in the second half of the 20th Century: the gruelling days, the unremitting heat, the poisons (like asbestos and other ubiquitous and dangerous contaminants) and the hardened nature of those working on the sites.
This thriller bowls along at a good pace, reflecting the motion of the turning wheels as the three head north. They encounter a young woman, a very unusual character, who is driving a huge pantechnicon and she is a great help when their HiAce breaks down. Together this idiosyncratic group has quite a few adventures as they trundle along the highways…
I felt the opening of the novel left me rolling my eyes, because it seems so preposterous that some unknown dude would ring a policeman, ask him to accompany him on an adventure to dig up a body and that the police officer would agree. I almost didn’t persevere with the novel because the premise felt like a device to get the characters settled into their HiAce, so the journey could begin. Anyway, I continued and am glad I did because it is a good and well constructed story, with a good ending.