Australian novelist Flanagan’s creepy, heavy-handed suspense tale develops around a Sydney stripper caught tragically in a media-frenzied terrorist hysteria.
At the Chairman’s Lounge, an upscale gentlemen’s club in Sydney, works a 26-year-old pole-dancer known as Krystal, or more often, the Doll, though her real name is Gina Davies—a dark-skinned loner who ran away from western Australia when she was 17 and has saved nearly $50,000 from her years dancing to escape to a new life. However, a series of unfortunate events shatters that dream when she spends the night with a fabulously rich, handsome, young foreign stranger, Tariq al-Hakim, a computer programmer and cocaine smuggler, with whom she is photographed entering his apartment house. At the time, the police are looking for a suspected terrorist in the recent bombing at Homebush Olympic Stadium, and Tariq, apparently, is their man, along with his suspected lady accomplice, the Doll, whose photograph is plastered all over the news. Enter the recently demoted second-rate TV newscaster Richard Cody, who frequents the strip club and recognizes the Doll—and a way to bolster his sagging on-air ratings. He begins shamelessly to pump the story in the news so that a veritable manhunt ensues for the stripper, who out of fear and a drug-induced muddle-headedness (cocaine, Zoloft, Stemetil) rejects the idea of turning herself in, and, with the help of her friend, fellow stripper and single mom Wilder, dyes her hair blond and goes into hiding. Nothing will stop Cody, however, especially when Tariq is found dead near the Doll’s apartment; and the poor stripper’s fate as the Unknown Terrorist is sealed. Flanagan (Gould’s Book of Fish, 2001) narrates the story from a position of godlike omniscience, making grim pronouncements on society’s rampant discrimination and fear of foreigners. His tender characterization renders Gina Davies’s tale mightily plausible, and terribly sad.
A writer who knows his characters and setting creates a compelling, timely work.