We first meet Nick Hawthorne in a Darwin bar. As a stripper offers contorted perspectives on what Australia has to offer, our hero from Maine meets a fellow countryman from Detroit intent on doing to Asia what America does to most places.
(Personal opinions, eh?) Nick has some of those. He has a personal approach to life, but feels he gets little out of it, despite having achieved the status of being the first person principal character of Douglas Kennedy’s novel The Dead Heart.
Nick is a journalist who has only ever had bit jobs. They interested him bit, earned him a bit, stimulated somewhat less. Then he found a map of Australia and became so obsessed with the continent’s emptiness that he sold up and left the US to discover the unknown, to visit the unvisited. He is less than impressed with Darwin. It’s not a good start. But a VW camper van bought from a Jesus freak promises a great escape along the road to Broome. Not round the corner…
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A hitcher called Angie provides welcome diversion from the repetition of the road. She seems easy-going, not to mention easy, and a little threatening. She is travelling for the first time, but exudes confidence. Nick, however, retains control. Or so he thinks…
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Until he finds himself in Wollanup. It’s a town whose recent tragic history has removed it from the map. Nick has arrived at nowhere, the dead heart of a land. He is now unknown, has sex and beer on tap and an awful diet. A horror story haunted by powdered eggs…
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Until Krystal starts to cook… His mechanical skills come into play. The rebuilt camper van is destroyed again. Its renewed mobility is a threat.
Events happen, like they do… Douglas Kennedy’s The Dead Heart evolves into a kind of fast-moving, page-turning thriller. But there are characters here. Something – not sure what! – seems almost credible. Nick is not the most likeable person, but this rather self-centred, thirty-odd, overweight hedonist does realise that there might be more to life than unlimited sex and beer on tap. He wants both, but clearly somewhere other than Wollanup.
What happens in The Dead Heart is crucial. It’s a plot-led work, but it is also engaging and well written. Its racy style fits the characters´ obvious preoccupations and helps to create a vivid portrait of lives that know only the here and now.
The Dead Heart is a book to be read in a single sitting. The process will leave readers wondering how they might have reacted in such circumstances. And what about Australia as depicted? Is this a stereotype? You bet…