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by Rodney Hall

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-374-25668-3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A compelling, lyrical tale of a ne'er-do-well's arrival in 19th-century New South Wales, the first novel of a trilogy ending with Hall's previously published Captivity Captive. In Captivity Captive and Kisses of the Enemy (both 1988), Hall's graceful prose frequently collapsed under sprawling plot lines and overwrought themes leading, in the main, to uneven offerings. Here, the author brings his plot and ambitions under tighter control, delivering a focused and engaging adventure with literary trimmings. A young 19th-century English printer forges a document attributed to 15th-century William Caxton. Known only as FJ—the initials embedded in his forgery—the young printer is arrested and sent in fetters to New South Wales, shackled to an abusive fellow prisoner, Gabriel Dean. En route, Gabriel Dean subjects the young Englishman to unceasing abuse until FJ finally murders his tormentor. On arrival in New South Wales, FJ escapes from his master, Atholl, and disappears into the cover of surrounding jungle. Taken under the protective care of a group of aborigines, FJ recovers his health and witnesses the murder of Atholl. Further improbabilities result in the reappearance of Gabriel Dean—not dead after all—who drags FJ back to Atholl's camp, and FJ's final escape from the authorities. An old-fashioned adventure tale, in short, decked out in lyrical prose and brought up to date with a sensitive view of aboriginal culture. More fun than Hall normally allows—and a major advance on his previous work.