Review: Still by Matt Nable

 

Title: Still

Author: Matt Nable

Published: May 2021, Hachette Australia 

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Hachette/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“They killed him because he saw.”

 

Still is an atmospheric noir crime fiction novel from Australian Matt Nable, a former professional rugby league footballer turned film and television broadcaster/actor, and novelist.

Set in Darwin in 1963, Nable exposes a barely civilised, nascent city plagued by racism, violence and corruption. It’s mid summer, the tropical weather alternates between searing and brooding, as oppressive and threatening as the work it takes to survive in the Territory.

When Senior Constable Ned Potter finds the body of a man beaten and shot twice in the marshland of Darwin’s outskirts, he resents being told to stand down by his venal boss, Senior Sergeant Riley, who promptly declares the the death a suicide. Ned is quietly furious but resigned to doing nothing until he stumbles upon the bodies of another two men buried in a shallow grave. They too have been beaten and shot, and yet again Riley, this time backed by the Mayor, presents Ned with a fair accompli. But this time Ned can’t let it go.

Ned is a well-realised, complex character. Nable portrays a man wrestling with conscience, caught between what he knows is right and the risk of consequences, not only to his career, which he expects, but to his wife and newborn daughter. Burning silently at the injustice, he punishes himself for his perceived lack of control and courage, drinks excessively, not sure whether he is trying to forget his principles, or his fear.

Meanwhile, on her way home from visiting her father in his nursing home, Charlotte Clark finds a bleeding, broken man who begs her to hide him. Charlotte sets him up at her father’s empty property, instinctively concealing the man from her firefighter husband, who shares a cosy relationship with Senior Sergeant Riley.

For Charlotte, caring for the badly injured Michael is not only the right thing to do, despite society’s prevailing derogatory view, supported by her husband, of Australian aboriginals, but also provides her with a sense of control in a life where effectively she has none. Charlotte is a women representative of the era, a restless housewife with no practical means of escape from an unhappy marriage. The consequences of being discovered are dire not only for her, given the propensity for violence of her husband, but also for Michael, whose life is at risk.

The stakes are high for just about every character in Still, and with lives, and livelihoods, under threat the tension rarely wavers. While I do think the pacing was perhaps a little slow, my only real complaint with the novel relates to the timeline. There is a lack of immediacy in the resolution, which was necessary for one specific element of the plot, but I feel it didn’t work particularly well overall, and resulted in the conclusion losing some of its impact.

Nevertheless, Still has a lot to recommend it. I found it to be a compelling novel – superbly atmospheric, with nuanced characters and a strong mystery.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia 

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