Three interlinked stories introduce American readers to an Australian original: a “low-level lurk artist” working the tatty fringes of organized crime in the 1950s.
You’d think twice before bringing Billy Glasheen home to Mother. He drinks, he uses Dexedrine, and he’s always in the sights of coppers like Ray Walters, since he’s always working some angle. Yet over and over, he comes off as a passive observer of his own life, woozily watching a freight train barrel through his best-laid plans. In the first of these hectic tales, set in 1952, he struggles to squeeze out of the frame for the murder of Charlie Furner, a thug across the aisle from Billy’s landlord, Sydney bookmaker Laurie O’Brien. In the second, two years later, a dubious government operative turns him into a deliveryman for a rabidly anti-Communist distiller. In the third and best, Sputnik circles overhead while he struggles to keep it all together as a road man for a visiting American rocker and his band (one of whom is now together with Billy’s ex-girlfriend) at the same time he’s trying to hide $40,000 dollars’ worth of unfenced jewelry from the law, rival gangsters, and anybody who might enjoy wearing it. Billy’s narration of these wild adventures is armored in Aussie slang so thick you’ll be grateful for the appended glossary.
Forget Elmore Leonard. Think of a hopped-up James M. Cain turning from amateur crooks to equally hapless professionals.