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by Chris Flynn
Text Publishing, August 2015
256 pages
ISBN: 1922147885

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The second novel from Irish born, Australian resident Chris Flynn, THE GLASS KINGDOM is one of those books that you're either going to get, or be horribly confused by.

Set in the weird and wild world of travelling carnivals, there's nothing whatever normal and straight about Ben, his sidekick Mikey, Ben's girlfriend Steph or their life. Under the cover of the Target Ball stand, Ben makes his money as a major meth dealer. A serious king-pin meth dealer, with cooks and labs spread all over Australia, a complex and well-managed distribution scheme that includes the special blue fluffy koala prizes on the carnival stand, and the personal front and presence to maintain that network.

Ben's a veteran of conflict, badly burned by a roadside explosion, his injuries providing an external view of the internal damage caused by a dysfunctional childhood. Mikey's future as Ben's sidekick on the carnival stand is as threatened by his tendency to pick fights with the punters, as it is with his mad scheme to buy into the more lucrative meth-dealing side of the business. To explain each character, and the events that they are all involved in, Flynn uses three narrators for this story in four parts. It's the elderly, slightly forgetful carny Huw (aka Voltan, Master of Electricity) who fills in much of the back story of Ben, whilst the other narrator, Mikey, provides a focus for the current / future).

A wild, no-prisoners style of book THE GLASS KINGDOM is not for those who don't like profane language, or unrepentant crooks. It is, however, a book for those that like a strong sense of place (and not just because the Rainbow Serpent Festival references made me laugh a lot). Whilst the pace at which Ben and Steph charge through Australia is breakneck there are little vignettes of characters and places which shine.

Flynn gives the different narrators a strong presence - Ben is very matter-of-fact, utterly unrepentant and ruthless, although there are some glimpses of humanity buried deep. The explanation for much of his behaviour comes from the hesitant, frequently vague voice of Huw. Both of these older men have been there and done that. Mikey, on the other hand plays the gangsta-rapper street wise kid who is anything but. The switch between the different viewpoints is, in keeping with the rest of the book, unapologetic and abrupt.

There's a purpose to the madness in this book however. Flynn is exploring a number of themes including the psychological damage to soldiers that modern warfare leaves in its wake and way that illicit drugs destroy lives and communities.

THE GLASS KINGDOM is definitely not going to be a book to everyone's taste, but the unflinching exploration of two very current day problems combined with flawed characters, black humour and even, heaven help me, some hip-hop verse leading to a conclusion that could give rise to more questions than answers, makes it something that's going to stay with readers who persevere.

Karen Chisholm has been reading crime fiction since she could hold a book upright. When not reading she builds websites and pretends to be a farmer. Her website, AustCrimeFiction has been covering fiction from Australia and New Zealand since 2006: http://www.austcrimefiction.org/

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm, July 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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