Review: Y A Erskine – The Brotherhood

Tasmania is a region I know little about but which conjures up images of beautiful scenery in a temperate climate. The Brotherhood written by Y A Erskine, a former Tasmanian police officer, provides an alternative view of the island. In this excellent book, racial tensions and stresses of police work combine to provide a snapshot of the realities of law enforcement on the island.

The plot opens with the murder of Sergeant John White, a policeman in the city of Hobart, who has a reputation for honesty and integrity. His killing takes place during a burglary in which he is being accompanied by a rookie cop whose narrative sets out the context of the killing. A suspect is soon identified which opens up a political nightmare for the police hierarchy. He is a boy from an Aboriginal family who are ‘known to the police’. Tensions clearly run high between the law enforcers and the Aborigine community and the narrative moves to the Commissioner of Police who clearly fears that the situation could escalate existing stresses. The chapters then tell the story from the perspective of various people involved in the investigation and those who were close to the dead man, including a local journalist, a lawyer called in to defend the suspect and Sergeant White’s wife and ex-girlfriend.

Gradually the personality of the policeman is revealed and his squeaky clean reputation comes under scrutiny along with the cynical manipulation of laws introduced to protect the Aborigine population. This cynicism is reflected in the style of the writing which is honest and brutal with strong expletives meted out by police and criminals alike. The shifting narrative worked very well I thought and brought out the humanity not only of suspect and victim but also of people on the periphery of the investigation. This wasn’t so much a whodunnit but a “whydunnit” and I thought it a very accomplished debut novel.

I read this book as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Other (very positive) reviews of the book can be found at Fair Dinkum Crime, Petrona and Aust Crime Fiction.

14 thoughts on “Review: Y A Erskine – The Brotherhood

  1. Sarah – Thanks for an excellent review. You’ve reminded me that I’ve got this on my TBR list and must get to it. It isn’t often that what’s billed as a YA novel has this broad of an appeal, but this novel certainly does.

  2. I didn’t think this was billed as a Y A novel? Maybe the author’s use of her initials is confusing. I suppose her publisher thought Y A would sell better than Yvette?
    Sorry for the aside – I very much enjoyed reading your review, which definitely encapsulates the appeal of the book for me. I think the different perspectives added to a sense of pace (except perhaps the London episode did not ring quite true? Not sure), and helped to avoid some of the cliches and escalations that so often mar the last quarter of crime novels. Though this author seems very assured – I can’t imagine her resorting to cliche as her writing is very honest, fresh and unvarnished.

  3. Thanks. Yes the author’s initials are confusing as it isn’t a YA book. It’s a very enjoyable debut that I almost read straight through. I did find her language refreshingly honest although I do always wince at the use of the ‘c’ word.

  4. I really enjoyed this, but my half written review needs finishing. Yvette’s 2nd book comes out next month called The Betrayal and I am looking forward to that

  5. Pingback: The Best of April’s Reading. « crimepieces

  6. Hi Sarah, I finally fixed the link to this review on the AWW challenge page. Sorry for the delay.

    I enjoyed the shifting narrative, too – technically a real achievement for a first-time novelist. I’ve also enjoyed reading others’ reactions. Maxine’s comment on the London episode is interesting. I had actually wondered if this might have been an autobiographical snippet!

  7. The book is well-written and interesting, however, I could not relate to the point of view of anyone in the book and had problems with the cynicism and lack of sensitivity to the Indigenous community. However, like all reading, it’s a matter of taste and our own experiences and outlooks come to the fore. That said, Y. Erskine is a good writer. (I also had problems with the sexist language and the bigotry, but if this is how the actual people being represented speak, then it’s reality based.)
    By the way, just found your website. Your reviews are excellent. I’ll try to make time to look up more reviews.

    • Thanks Kathy for stopping by and commenting on so many reviews. I have seen your comments before on Margot and Maxine’s blog so you obviously are a big crime fiction reader. I completely agree with you about the language and although I didn’t specifically mention it in my review I have a big problem with the ‘c’ word. But it is interesting in this book that it’s not only the language of the street but also the police station, which gives an interesting insight.

  8. Sounds like an intriguing book. Sounds like it might be a similar tale as the Tall Man though the later is based on real events.

  9. Pingback: Review: The Brotherhood by Y. A. Erskine | The Game's Afoot

  10. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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