The Predators Beneath
A few years ago I spent a couple of weeks exploring in the Daintree National Park in Far North Queensland. A crocodile expert told me that victims of crocodile attacks were more often than not locals. Locals get used to their neighbours and get a bit casual with what lies beneath. They forget the reptilian brain lying in wait…the opportunistic hunter. They forget the crocodile just wiling away invisible beneath the surface of the still water, saving its energy, its body on idle and its senses on alert. Waiting.
In our civilised communities, the reptile brain hides beneath the surface too. It lies beneath the surface of the man on the bus sitting across from you. He’s friendly, chatty and unassuming, such a nice man, the reptilian predator just wiling away beneath the surface. Waiting.
This is the wilderness Robotham explores in “Say You’re Sorry”. This is the wilderness of the mind, of the injured soul, of the sociopath, the serial killer, the child molester, the thrill killer. He doesn’t appear dressed in a dark cloak, black hat looking weird and scary. He looks like your chubby Uncle Charlie or your chatty Aunt May. He looks like you. Hell, he might even be you.
The novel is set in Oxford during the Christmas Season. Robotham makes it a familiar place. Oxford becomes the metaphor for our own communities. Whether we live in Australia or the U.S. or Britain…we recognize the characters. They are our neighbours, our friends. They are people we like, people we fear and people we despise…we know who they are. Here, Oxford is not some exotic locale. It’s everyplace. This is verisimilitude. It’s an honesty and truth that sings to us. We believe it. We know this place even though we may have never been there. And we believe it because it is so well done. And this is no mean feat. It takes skill to craft such a thing and do this well.
Two narrative lines run in this book and the voices are pitch perfect. If Robotham were a singer he’d be a bloody Opera star. Their pitch and tone are so perfect they could shatter champagne flutes at a hundred paces.
One is the voice of young Piper told through the pages of her diary and the other is the voice of criminal psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin.
Piper’s diary makes us laugh, makes us care and at times breaks our hearts. Like many teenagers, she is full of doubt about herself and her place in the world. She is a whisper from our own adolescence no matter how long ago we were there and her voice rings true.
O’Loughlin is a regular in Robotham novels. He’s not wise cracking tough guy. He’s not a two fisted avenger or a fast draw shoot ‘em up. There is something universal about Joe. When he looks into the mirror and faces the palsied reminder of his own mortality…there is something familiar and something frightening. Joe is a constant reminder that the world isn’t right yet and there’s so much to do before we leave it to protect those we love. With Joe salvation doesn’t come from the end of a gun barrel or with two fists…it comes from learning, it comes from knowing his fellow man…even the sick the bastards that do sick things.
We live in a jungle, whether it be the asphalt and cement of big city means streets, the manicured lawns of suburbia or the bucolic peace of the country. They all have their predators, those who have adapted as we have adapted and those who use their jungle… to hide in wait. Robotham reminds us that our salvation lies not only in how we survive that jungle but how we retain our humanity.