Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.
When we first meet Darren Keefe, as an adult, he is not in a good place. In fact it’s the boot of a car, where he’s been tied up and gagged, with a bullet hole in his knee.
For Darren, brother, son, enfant terrible of Australian cricket, it’s a realisation that he’s had this coming for a long, long time. With a back-story fleshing out their early days growing up in suburban Melbourne, Australia, Darren and his older brother, Wally, have one interest: cricket. It occupies their days, consuming them with its joys and noble history and filling them with a vicious and single-minded competitive streak that knows no bounds. Not for them the wild bouncers and flailed batting of other twelve-year-old boys; the Keefe brothers are freakishly talented and schooled by their single mother to aim for the highest in everything they do – and to win - especially against each other.
But while Wally is the purist, playing the game to its highest traditions of sportsmanship as displayed by their heroes, eventually earning the captain’s cap of the Australian team, Darren, equally skilled and determined, attracts – and is attracted by – the worst kind of trouble like a determinedly delinquent moth to a very hot and lively flame. And the kind of trouble that finds him is the sour and dark tinge of corruption in the national game, reaching out for him as if knowing that he won’t fight too hard to resist its siren call.
There are moments of sheer delight in the boyhood sequences, where sibling rivalry is painted with unerring accuracy by Jock Serong (winner of the Ned Kelly Award for his novel ‘Quota’). Any brothers reading it will instantly recognise the familiar and fleeting boyhood experiences of joy and fury, victory and defeat, love and hate, where beating one’s brother was all-consuming and a moment to be savoured… until the next time, when fortunes were reversed and equilibrium of a sort restored.
But most brothers find diverging paths and other interests. The Keefes’ are like a car crash waiting to happen. We don’t know when or how, but that’s where Serong skilfully keeps us guessing. In the meantime, Wally reaches the stars, while Darren, passed over for no reason that he can understand, becomes a victim of his own dreadful hubris and his attraction to the wrong kind of people.
I don’t follow cricket at all. It’s never been my game, so is not exactly an open book. But as a backdrop to a dark and stunning story, I was quite happy to play along – possibly because it is only a backdrop, not a test match ball-by-ball replay. But as a brother, with all that my childhood memories brought to the fore while reading this book, I was in there, toe-to-toe with the Keefes in all their petty squabbles and fights, secrets and desires, victories and defeats. This I could identify with.
As a novel of suspense, I heartily recommend it.