Once again John Martin creates an improbable world filled with improbable, but memorable, characters. Some you love and love loving; some you hate and love hating. The protagonist you love hating so much you can't wait to see what he does next so you can hate him even more.
Set in the wilds of the major's wife's dying estate in a small Australian village, Martin skillfully guides us through the outrageous schemes of a handsome, charming but loathsome, self-centered, self-promoting sociopath and his willing and not-so-willing victims. Major Billycock-Smythe fancies himself lord of the manor, but when fortune and overdue taxes thwart his ambitions, he launches a grandiose scheme to further his ambitions and save his wife's property for his own sake, and perhaps purchase a knighthood while he's at it.
The major's victims are as varied and interesting as the major himself. There's the clueless wife, whose real name he refuses to say, because it's too common; the long-suffering sergeant who thinks he owes his life to his superior officer; the dog, the pet snake, a gaggle of prominent executives who fall for his scheme; the Oobagoogu people he accidentally kidnaps, and a host of neighbors, villagers, government officials, ex-wives, abandoned children, and journalists he either manages to dupe or add to his long list of enemies.
The book ends in an most unsatifactory manner. You will love reading while you're reading it, but perhaps stomp on it when you're finished. Then you may pick it up and read it again. After that you probably will petition the author to write a sequel.
Martin always had an
eye for an offbeat
story during his time at The
Examiner where he
produced many memorable
Now based in Canberra, he has been turning his writing talents to comic novels.
His latest offering features the adventures— although misadventures is a more accurate description— of bumbling mercenary and former British army officer Major Jeremy Billycock- Smythe.
Marriage number seven sees the Major ensconced in a large rural homestead on the far outskirts of Canberra where his new wife Molly is trying to preserve some remnant of her family’s grand past in the Australian grazing industry.
The Major’s ‘‘decorated’’ army career seems to have ended under a cloud and his activities in the private sector have attracted a certain notoriety with the media.
Even the spooks in the Australian diplomatic service are taking an interest in his often bizarre activities, which include illegal immigrants and clandestine military operations.
Numerous interesting, odd and plain mad characters are involved as the Major tries to save his career and his marriage.
There are even a couple of Tasmanians.
This is a story that is sure to amuse readers as it draws on Martin’s observations of reporters, politicians, businessmen and the military.
Since starting his journalism cadetship at The Examiner in 1976, Martin has worked in various capacities on newspapers in Australia, PNG and Micronesia.
He complied a daily curiosity column while at the Canberra Times and now works on military
magazines in Canberra.
This book is being sold through his website (www.dunno.com.au) where you’ll find more examples of his writing.
John Martin is an enigma to many of his workmates on the basis that as a sub-editor, he is one of The Examiners finest writers. The enigma is that sub-editors dont write, they correct the work of others.
So it is pleasing to note that APPLES confirms that Tasmanias latest novelist is indeed a writer, a wordsmith as opposed to many of those around him who simply report on events.
Apples is a wonderfully humorous story about eccentrics. Knowing John Martins own brand of disarmingly-black humour, his characters could be nothing else.
The plot is centred on Windy Mountain, a fictional Northern Tasmanian town which is home to a wide cross-section of folk who represent (in spoofish proportions) Tasmania today. You will know some of them, if not by name, then certainly by character.
Windy Mountain is indeed windy, but where the mountain is seems less certain. Its population is a mixture of lifestyles, from commune-living greenies to redneck conservatives, with a pub which sells only apple cider and apple juice.
One of the principal characters is Les Happles - or "Apples" to his friends - who one night finds himself arrested for the curious Tasmanian offence or dressing as a woman "between the hours of sunset and sunrise."
The incident sets the pace for the introduction of a series of loosely-connected characters. There is the town drunk, a Catholic priest who is reconsidering his life with God, and the Mayor, a greedy megalomaniac whose orchard is home to a rare species of parrot which has the local greenies up in placards. He also wants to declare martial law over a "gang" of muttonbirds.
Meanwhile, there is Bruce Routley, the champion footballer and Tasmanian Tiger hunter whose mate is Foetus, a bikie who was waylaid in Windies Mountain years before and is still waiting for his gang to return.
While the greenies are embroiled in their own power-plays, one of Windy Mountains most popular pastimes is dancing at Tiger Kowalskis Dancing School. It seems strange that so many unlikely candidates take to dancing, if that indeed is the schools true vocation.
Windy Mountain also has its own newspaper, naturally, with an editor, Mr D.O.B. Leggs, whose own eccentricity extends to ordering reporters to find out where the wind comes from.
There are many more weird but endearing personalities who gradually thread together to - among other things - solve the great hospital sperm robbery, try to win Windy Mountain its first-ever footy premiership, save the apple orchard parrots from eco-unfriendly multi-nationals and find a thylacine (and save it too).
What stands out amid all these characters is that they have just that - character. You are able to picture them and their world, which is always the sign of a good storyteller.
There are some superfluous words in Apples - perhaps events and actions are at time over-explained - but this is well disguised by the abundant mixture of "funny ha-ha" and "funny peculiar".
Apples, apart from its eccentric characters, is also a comment on many issues, from Aborigines to conservation, and the author seems to have great fun in playing "devils advocate" with himself through their dialogue.
In the "industry" they say that inside every journalist there is a frustrated author trying to break out.
John Martin has just escaped.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BOOK HERE