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A seventh, satisfying novel from Matthews (Power in the Blood, 1993) takes him back to his native Australia, where he traces the destinies of an unlikely trio that survives the rigors of the bush and the upheavals of World War II. The story begins in 1939 when a young Englishman, Clive Bagnall, arrives in Darwin to claim an inheritance. Redlands is not the thriving cattle ranch of Clive's imagination, but a tin shed on acres of acid red earth, sand palms, and gum trees. Bagnall is convinced his dead uncle has played him a dirty trick and turns to the local Crocodile Dundee, Doug Farrands, for help. They are joined at Redlands by Clive's pretty cousin Val, but soon the mÉnage à trois is disrupted by storm clouds in Europe. Clive enlists to fight Hitler, and Doug enlists when Japanese bombers batter Darwin. There follows a series of military adventures and outrageous coincidences in the southwestern Pacific. Clive and Doug are reunited on Dombi island, a Japanese prison camp, and meet their former pearl-diving friend Ishi aboard a POW ship. A submarine attack provides the mechanism for their escape, whereupon they sail 600 miles by dead reckoning in a lifeboat straight back to Darwin. Val, meanwhile, has been fatefully drawn into the ritual world of aborigines, who worship sacred stones and a man-eating crocodile. Matthews's aborigines are of the ""noble savage"" variety; in fact, only his three protagonists are fully drawn. While Matthews's characters tend towards stereotypes, his plots are highly entertaining and his portraits of the Northern Territory evoke the harshness of that hardscrabble land.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: HarperCollins