REVIEWS

 

junky-pilgrim

JUNKIE PILGRIM

by Wayne Grogan

 The Sydney Morning Herald

Wayne Grogan’s first novel oozes atmosphere. It is claustrophobic, dirty and unpleasant. Oh, and beautifully written. As good as the plotting is, what makes Junkie Pilgrim so impressive is the characterisation, the vernacular and the superbly drawn Sydney locales. You feel the seediness of Kings Cross so powerfully that you feel like taking a shower after particular passages. This is no tourist guide of Sydney’s underbelly, but the creation of a writer who obviously knows its every nuance. Junkie Pilgrim stands as an astonishing portrayal of criminality in the metropolis.

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The Herald (Newcastle)

Junkie Pilgrim is addictive and un-put-downable. Filled with gut-wrenching realism, it presents a snapshot of life as a junkie. It is also a raw exposé of drug and crime culture in a Sydney that, on the surface, will be familiar to most readers. The novel serves as a portal to its dirty and grubby and all together pointless underbelly of degradation and humiliation.

This is a very good novel, written in a fast-paced style with a grimy and revolting realism that transports the reader into a scary jungle made more frightening because we know it is just around the corner from the safe, leafy suburbs we inhabit. Junkie Pilgrim should, I think, be recommended reading.

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vale-byron-bay

VALE BYRON BAY

by Wayne Grogan

Robert Drewe, author 

Savagely honest and unsentimental, it stings like a winter surf. Grogan has truly captured the other side of paradise.

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The Age (Melbourne)

Grogan’s elaborate, even rococo style, takes time to become accustomed to – rather like putting in a toe, then a hand, and, if you don’t baulk, finally giving yourself up and diving in. His love affair with the drama of physical landscape means that he sometimes reads like a Turner picture. The story, though, is a parable with the greatest theme of all, pitting light against dark, good against evil. This brooding, capriciously brilliant novel is a bright star on the dimmish skies of recent Oz Lit.

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someone-shot-the-cook

SOMEONE SHOT THE COOK

by Philip Moore

 

Xpress Dubai 

A book chock-full of three decades of journalistic war stories and tall tales. From White House press briefings to Pacific Rim conflicts, Moore has retained a sense of humour through some very dangerous times and territories. There’s comic relief from the more riveting global crises but when it’s serious it’s serious, and when it’s funny this book is as funny as it gets. 

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The Mercury, Durban

If the title suggests a combination of the chaotic and the bizarre, that is what is intended. The line comes from the apology of the maitre d’ in a Beirut restaurant for the quality of the fare that day. The quirkiness runs through the entire book.

Philip Moore has put together an unusual and highly entertaining collage of his varied experiences as a foreign correspondent over several decades. There is the hell of Beirut during civil war, people diving to the floor in the bar of the Commodore Hotel as the resident parrot very convincingly imitates incoming shells. The parrot is actually owned by a radio and television journalist of great personal bravery and integrity who has produced some stunning footage and reportage over the years – yet is universally remembered as “the man who owns the parrot in the Commodore”, not for anything else.

There is the nerve-frazzling phase of kidnappings in Lebanon – Terry Waite, emissary of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the victims – and a great deal of nastiness in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war.

Moore, who is currently based in Dubai, takes us through the bars and bordellos of south-east Asia, a region where he himself was held captive in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge – the anti-intellectual genocidists who were about the nastiest people in the world to have as captors – and he introduces us to some very seedy characters. But at the same time he gives a wry and understated account of what is actually going on in those parts. Sometimes there is a flash of anger over things like the child prostitution and paedophilia of south-east Asia.

He spreads his net wide. People interviewed include Yuri Gagarin, the Russian who was the first man to fly in space; also Charles “Pete” Conrad, the US astronaut who walked on the moon. He writes about cricket, rugby union, rugby league, Aussie Rules football, American gridiron football, boxing, horseracing and stock car racing. Also about potheads all over the show, including his native Australia. Also plenty about country music. And somewhere he finds a hypnotist who is able to get nymphomaniacs to tone down their urges. Plus a sex-change jackeroo shearing sheep in the Aussie outback. Localities switch all the time: the Middle East, south-east Asia, Fleet Street, the United States, Australia.

It’s the raconteur’s prerogative to decide what he wants to tell us. The test is whether it’s a good yarn and whether he tells it well. Moore comes through with flying colours. His dry, understated and uncluttered style absolutely fits the bill.

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Talking of Books, Dubai Eye

Wars, rock music, and lots of sport. A winning formula for a racy newspaper – and equally so in book form for veteran Aussie hack Philip Moore. Someone Shot the Cook is an anthology of yarns from a lifetime of globe-trotting journalism. From drug-smuggling in Bangkok to blockade-busting in Iran, Moore intersperses the background to hard news stories with insightful interviews with big names in sport and music.

Yuri Gagarin and Kim Philby, George Foreman and Carlos Santana – even Adolf Hitler makes a cameo appearance, courtesy of a new twist on the famous Jesse Owens slur at the Berlin Olympics.

The title comes from excuses made by a waiter in a Beirut restaurant for the inadequate quality of the food. Naturally, there was a full-scale war going on in Lebanon at the time. Moore need not worry about meeting the same fate as his title character. On this showing, readers will be queuing for second helpings.

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heavy-allies

HEAVY ALLIES

by Wayne Grogan

 

The Sydney Morning Herald

I read a lot of crime novels and unfortunately little that’s really good has been written about Sydney. Ever. So it was with great joy that I finished Wayne Grogan’s Heavy Allies. It is the real thing. The novel is set in the dying days of the Nugan Hand Bank in the 1970s. One main character is a cop turned hitman; the other is a Vietnam veteran who goes to work for the bank. Along the way we meet real figures such as Neddy Smith and Frank Nugan. The trouble with this sort of thing is that the history will clog up the fiction. But, on the whole, Grogan avoids this. The real elements are not heavy handed; in fact, they’re so light that anyone under 50 might be lost from time to time.

It’s Grogan’s writing that will move you. Several times I was reminded of Peter Temple’s Broken Shore, arguably the best Australian crime novel.

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The Age (Melbourne)

Wayne Grogan’s novel is a strangely exquisite fiction based very closely on the heroin killings of the 1970s and 80s in Sydney. Years of research have given this novelistic account of the Nugan Hand Bank a gritty verité, psychological as well as forensic. Grogan’s writing is terse and tough, sharply observant, often wry, and at other times lyrical.

The most powerful character in the book is Freddy Matthias, a hitman and former cop. Muttering from his cell he gives us a hard-boiled, drolly obscene ‘confession’ of the executive side of organised crime; his rivalry and fascination with the (real) hitman, Christopher Dale Flannery; how it feels to take out a mark; and the delicate realpolitik of underworld life.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Underbelly (or has) or who thinks present day Kings Cross is a theme-park version of seediness might like to read Heavy Allies and get a little history into them.

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Australian Book Review

The turpitude depicted in Heavy Allies is vertiginous, yet the novel itself is intimate, concerned with the fine grain of individual experience. Grogan forsakes the panoramic sweep of true crime epics in favour of deft character sketches. Matthias, whose story is told in a hard-bitten first person that sits nicely alongside the seedy poetry of Grogan’s third person narration, is especially well rendered.

The use of a shifting viewpoint and non-linear plot allows for a steady accretion of detail that is evocative without overwhelming the narrative. Grogan’s prose is pitch perfect, and his control of the material, factual or otherwise, is total. Heavy Allies is an assured performance at almost every level.

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jim-morrison-jesus-complex

JIM MORRISON JESUS COMPLEX

by Wayne Grogan

 

The Sydney Morning Herald

An epic suite of poems that maps the life and career of the singer and lyricist for the Doors. It’s also the story of the author’s life and how Morrison inspired it. Jim Morrison Jesus Complex has a need-to-gawk-at, direct and pulsating energy that more academic and refined poets should envy.

Grogan reaches for a debauched lyric intensity that alludes to various Doors songs and a romantic grandeur inherent in Morrison’s image. This inflated romantic ambition is enough to cause resentment in the small-time Australian literary and journalism scene. But it’s precisely Grogan’s willingness to flame out with enough brilliant images and risky intentions that signals what a great writer he can be.

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The Herald (Newcastle)

This is literature with a capital L.

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Clare Calvet, Nightline, ABC Radio 702 Sydney 

Wayne Grogan is an outstanding, inimitable author of evocative, poetic prose. Jim Morrison Jesus Complex is a stream-of-consciousness, free-form verse, filled with literary imagery as a eulogy to the legendary, sensual poet, writer, lyricist, singer and counter-culture icon, Jim Morrison. The book is full of ironic ambiguities as Grogan captures the dark soul of JM, martyring himself and challenging the establishment.

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The Doors Examiner

Jim Morrison Jesus Complex is an extended poetic meditation on the Doors front man. Jim Morrison wrote ‘there are continents and shores that beseech our understanding’ and Wayne Grogan attempts to cross the Great Barrier Reef in our understanding of Morrison.

An extended poetic meditation isn’t for everybody and may only be for the heartiest and most poetically adventuresome of Morrison/Doors fans. And yes, Jim Morrison Jesus Complex has its excesses but that’s also one of the charges that’s always been levelled against Morrison’s life and poetry. It has its moments of hubris, but creation, the mere act of scribbling down words you think others may be interested in, that you have the nerve to think you have something to say to the world, is an act of hubris and self indulgence in itself. Four stars.