Title: The Brotherhood
Author: YA Erskine
Published: Random House August 2011
Synopsis: One dead cop, one small island, and an impact that will last a lifetime. When Sergeant John White, mentor, savior, and all-round good guy, is murdered during a routine call-out, the tight-knit world of Tasmania Police is rocked to the core. An already difficult investigation into the death of one of their own becomes steeped in political complexities when the main suspect is identified as Aboriginal, and the case, courtesy of the ever-hostile local media, looks set to make Palm Island resemble a Sunday afternoon picnic in comparison. And as the investigation unfolds through the eyes of the sergeant’s colleagues, friends, family, enemies, and the suspect himself, it becomes clear that there was a great deal more to John White—and the squeaky-clean reputation of the nation’s smallest police service—than ever met the eye. The Brotherhood is a novel about violence, preconceptions, loyalties, corruption, betrayal, and the question a copper should never need to ask: just who can you trust?
Status: Read on February 18, 2012
The Brotherhood is a gritty police drama by debut author YA (Yvette) Erskine. It was on the recommendation of Bernadette that I picked this up at my local library for the AWW Challenge, delighted to discover another Australian crime novelist.
The Brotherhood begins with the shooting of an experienced and well liked police officer during a routine break and enter investigation in suburban Tasmania. His murder however, is almost incidental to the story in that the how, who and why are quickly deduced. Instead the death serves as a catalyst to explore the issues of crime and justice.
Given Erskine’s eleven years on the force it seems that she could be walking a fine line between fact and fiction with The Brotherhood. She doesn’t hesitate in exposing the contradictions of a law and order which operates under political, financial and social pressures. Hampered by petty politics and woefully under resourced, Erskine reveals a police force where corruption and sexism is rife. Officers struggle to maintain their integrity in an environment where they are increasingly undervalued and at risk. The author highlights the challenges and frustrations of modern policing with unflinching honesty.
Erskine also exposes a justice system that fails to uphold the principle that ‘all should be treated equal under the law’. In this instance the perpetrator’s identity as an Australian Aboriginal complicates the open and shut case. Justice is swayed by the suspect’s cultural heritage, his socioeconomic status, his background and the very real tensions between the indigenous community and police.
There is a brutal sense of authenticity about The Brotherhood, enhanced by the uncensored language and spare style of writing. The story unfolds from several points of view, beginning with the probationary constable who was present at the scene, and then continuing through a diverse cast related to the case including the Police Commissioner, the suspect and a local journalist. It’s an unique approach that allows the story to move forward but with shifting perspective. Surprisingly it doesn’t feel disjointed but instead adds a depth that wouldn’t have been possible with a more traditional narrative. Each character has a different relationship with the murdered officer and the crime, and as they join the story, they help build a more complete picture of the situation, and the victim, even as the issues become murkier.
The Brotherhood is a confronting yet compelling novel that combines police procedural with crime drama. I really enjoyed the way in which Erskine confronts the grey areas of law and order that are too often reduced to headlines manipulated for controversy or ignored in favour of political expediency. I am eagerly awaiting the publication of Erskine’s next novel, The Betrayal.
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About the Author
Y.A. Erskine spent eleven years in the Tasmania Police Service. She was active in front-line policing and served as a detective in the CIB. She is also an historian with an honours degree in early modern history. Y.A. Erskine lives in Melbourne and is happily married with two dogs.