A crime reporter is thrown into turmoil by the death of his refugee lover in this final novel by an acclaimed and troubled Australian writer.
Mackenzie made a successful debut in 1937 with The Young Desire It. By the time this final novel was published in 1954, he was battling alcoholism. He drowned while swimming the following year. The story begins with the nocturnal atmosphere common to much hard-boiled writing. Lloyd Fitzherbert, a Sydney newspaperman, is finishing up a late shift in the press room when a call to a police contact brings him face to face with the corpse of Irma, the Dutch refugee who was his lover. In flashback, the novel details how Fitz and Irma came to meet just after she arrived in Australia before the beginning of World War II. A target of the Nazis in Holland, she is now, she claims, being pursued by her former communist associates, who are wary of the knowledge she possesses. Mackenzie is contrasting the literal and figurative isolation of Australia with the turmoil that had already touched the rest of the world. He seems to have intended to write a thriller saturated in the particularly noir mixture of longing, regret, and obsessiveness. Those elements, along with any tension, are lost in the thickets of more than 400 pages, which feel too much like a philosophical inquiry.
The novel maps a state of torment which, sadly, has not been rendered lucidly.