Robert Gott’s GOOD MURDER is, if you need a genre label, a comic historical caper. It introduces William Power, possibly the world’s most out-of-place Shakespearean actor, who in 1942 is touring rural Queensland while war wages across the globe. He and his fellow actors, touring under the name of the Power Players, are able to engage in their artistic pursuits because most are physically disabled in some way, with Will’s own flat feet being the least disfiguring ailment, and the remaining members are just plain unsuitable for conscription (one is a woman, the other ‘a queer’). With an allotment of fuel coupons they are allowed to drive the country bringing entertainment to the masses, though it seems from the outset that the people of Maryborough would much rather visit the circus or see a popular play than Will’s planned production of Titus Andronicus.
Amidst searching for lodgings and a suitable venue for their performances and undertaking rehearsals and some alarming alterations to the script to account for the number and limitations of the actors on hand, Will and his fellow actors quickly become embroiled in the town’s activities. In return for a reduced room rate one of the troupe takes over cooking duties at a run-down hotel and Will squires a young local girl to the pictures. Unfortunately for Will the girl, Polly Drummond, disappears soon after his date with her and when her body is discovered in the local water tower Will is the prime suspect in her murder. He is not overly surprised at the suspicion of the police and other locals but is a bit put out by his own troupe’s seeming willingness to accept his guilt. In attempting to clear his name he spirals further and further into desperate farce as the bodies, and the evidence of his guilt, mount.
Will isn’t a traditionally sympathetic character, being somewhat arrogant, self-absorbed and even dimwitted at several key moments. But his biting humour alleviates the worst of his traits and I couldn’t help fut feel sorry for his various predicaments. That a man with ambitions of producing memorable Shakespeare should end up playing in a still-operating skating rink in the cultural wasteland that probably was rural Queensland in 1942 seems a harsh punishment just for being a bit of a narcissist. The fact it is his own lack of social skills that provides most of the reasoning behind him becoming an object of suspicion is something I can personally empathise with.
There are a lot of other characters in the novel, almost too many really for any to really shine, who collectively add local colour and some depth to the story. Perhaps the most interesting of these is Peter Topaz, the one local cop who doesn’t make snap judgements about Will’s guilt, though Will’s most trusted fellow actor Arthur (who has only one arm and one testicle) is also quite engaging. There is a melancholic overtone to his relationship with Will towards the end of the novel when Will is quick to suspect Arthur’s own role in things criminal and fails to see the irony of his own rush to judgement after having been on the receiving end of similar vilification. I liked the fact that Will didn’t suddenly shed is self-absorption or suddenly develop psychological insights beyond is capabilities as might have happened if this were a different kind of novel.
GOOD MURDER’s atmospheric depiction of wartime Australia alone is worth reading it for, offering a myriad of small details that bring the period alive. The various means people have of circumventing austerity measures imposed by the government, the way some towns thrived due to being able to provide infrastructure for the war effort and the many ways that normal life goes on regardless of the dire state of world affairs all play out here. Its combination of satire and farce won’t appeal to everyone but if you do like that kind of humour and can handle a bit of judiciously placed crude language then I highly recommend this novel.
Robert Gott’s William Power series currently stands at three novels and this month he published an unrelated historical novel entitled THE HOLIDAY MURDERS.
Publisher: Scribe Publications 
Length: 293 pages
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