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.

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