CRIME CULTURE: The popularity of true crime podcasts and investigative crime documentaries has exploded over the past five years. Greenlight – the debut novel by stand-up comedian Benjamin Stevenson – places the media right in the centre of a young backpacker’s murder. Therese Taylor with her view on this new Aussie thriller.
There have been a number of crime novels written by journalists and their ilk, whose protagonists are media figures, and whose plots revolve around the way that crime is reported.
Greenlight is a quality addition to this genre. It is deftly plotted, and persuasive.
The novel is set in Sydney and the Hunter Valley. Lawyers, television producers, journalists and wine makers jostle for the right to proclaim the guilt of whoever it is that is responsible for a the murder of a young woman backpacker.
The scenes set in the vineyards and cellars of the Hunter Valley present a unanimous community. A small village all stick together and show a united face to the world. I felt that this part of the novel, which represents a single point of view in a village, and a unique set of outcasts in one family, might be overdone.
People who come from the Hunter Valley tend to remember the strong community ties, which are constantly woven around rivalries, disputes and shifting friendships. Everyone is together, but no one can agree on anything. However, in this novel, they do.
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The pictures of media outlets, with their squabbling staffs and fonts of energy, has a sense of being more true to life.
Greenlight offers a fascinating view of the wine industry, with its achievements, but its frequent undertones of snobbery and greed. And the vineyards, which in their ordered ranks can resemble a gallery, are like the fine art industry – susceptible to fakes.
The backpackers who appear and disappear in the rural landscape are like allegories of loss, and of the terrible crimes which are so easily concealed in endless expanse of Australian rurality.
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The novel, keeping to the conventions of crime novels, has one chief character who is a tireless investigator. His name is Jack Quick. Is this a nod to Christina Stead, who had a James Quick in her benchmark Australian novel, For Love Alone?
Jack Quick has an eating disorder, and a theme of solitude in his life. His brother is a brain damaged invalid, after a boyhood accident. His life appears to be a reversal of the Australian patterns of male bonding and secure gender roles.
This is Benjamin Stevenson’s debut novel, and it is indeed a very good book. It puts the reporting of crime into the plot of a crime novel. Recommended reading.
Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson. Penguin Books, Australia. IBSN 9780143789871.
Feature Image: Author Benjamin Stevenson (Photo: Amelia Dowd)