In INFAMY Lenny Bartulin has delivered rollicking entertainment with literary authenticity – a must read ‘Australian western’ historical novel. Read on for our full review.
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REWARD: Twenty gallons of Rum for the Delivery into My Custody of one Colonel George Bloody Arthur. The Reprobate’s Offences include Fraudulently Impersonating a Lieutenant Governor. For I Am the TRUE George!
William Burr, the son of an English settler in South America, had a steady job hunting mahogany pirates in British Honduras. One day, injured and recovering after a jungle skirmish, he receives a letter from John McQuillan, his old friend and now Chief Police Magistrate in Hobart Town, with the offer of a reward for the capture of a notorious outlaw: and so Burr sets sail for the Antipodes, though with little idea of what to expect. He arrives in Van Diemen’s Land, the most isolated and feared penal colony of the British Empire, in 1830 to find a world of corruption, brutality and mystical beauty. Following the trail of Brown George Coyne, the charismatic outlaw leader of a band of escaped convicts, Burr is soon rushing headlong through the surreal, mesmerising Vandemonian wilderness, where he will discover not only the violent truth of British settlement, but also the love of a woman, and the friendship of an Aboriginal tracker, himself an outcast on an island of outcasts.
A brilliant and beguiling Australian Western by a writer of astonishing talent. Visceral, phantasmagoric, explosive and exhilarating – you have never read anything like it.
Lenny Bartulin has an enviable command of the written word. I knew that having been impressed by his snappy prose in his Jack Susko Mystery, De Luxe. But an Australian Western?
Apparently ‘westerns’ are back in vogue, but I have never before chosen to read a novel described as such. I purchased this novel solely on the talent of this author. I was not disappointed.
Enthralled from the opening lines, I was immediately swept up into the story but telling myself to read more slowly to savour the prose. Described as ‘Kate Grenville meets Cormac McCarthy’ Infamy’s entertainment value is indisputable.
Bartulin has brought the well-trodden history of Australia’s southern-most penal settlement alive through vivid and poetic description and a cast of wonderful characters.
Ships creaked on the water behind him, swayed in the morning tide, like old men stretching their joints, trying to climb out of bed.
Infamy is filled to almost bursting with every conceivable stereotype – an endearing white knight, damsel in distress, bumbling fools, wily grafters, a charismatic yet unhinged outlaw and countless others. But these stereotypes are only a platform upon which Bartulin develops nuanced characters with great spirit and personality.
Also on display is his talent for imbuing commonplace dialogue with humour and subtle irony.
Burr grinned and reached for the sweet bread.
‘I’ve received a letter from Arthur,’ McQuillan said. ‘He’s Lieutenant Governor in Van Diemen’s Land now. Says there’s not a morsel of talent in the whole colony.’
‘Then you’d fit right in.’
‘Corruption like a pox was the gist of it. Needs capable men to help sort out the colonials.’
‘I thought you couldn’t stand Arthur?’
‘Aye, it’s true. He’s a horse’s arse with a prayer book. But I’m restless…’ He stood up and poured more rum, then stamped a boot on the verandah boards because his foot had gone to sleep.
With each and every interaction Bartulin’s characters seem to grow beyond the confines of this novel’s pages.
As evocative and cinematic as the depictions of the unforgiving Tasmanian wilderness are, the descriptions of the many violent acts are visceral and confronting.
In Infamy Lenny Bartulin has achieved the seemingly impossible, balancing ‘rollicking’ entertainment with literary authenticity (in time, place and character), right down to its conclusion.
I wholeheartedly recommend the work of Lenny Bartulin and this novel in particular.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5 ; Overall 4.75
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Genre: Action-Adventure, Historical, Literature, Drama, Romance, Mystery
UPDATE: We have also since enjoyed Lenny Bartulin’s latest novel Fortune (2019).
About the Author, Lenny Bartulin
Lenny Bartulin is the author of the Jack Susko trilogy and a published poet. Born and bred in Hobart, he is currently living in the Blue Mountains.
* This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2014.Updated
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