Thursday, August 5, 2010

'The Crime of Huey Dunstan' by James McNeish



The Crime of Huey Dunstan
by James McNeish
Text Publishing
9781921656446

The eponymous crime of Huey Dunstan is the vehicle through which the story of the life of Ches, an 80 year old pyschologist specialising in trauma, is told.
Huey is a young man convicted of a violent murder which, from all accounts, is out of character. Ches is called to provide expert witness for the defense and he starts to believe there must be a deeper psychological motive for the murder.
Huey's crime, subsequent trial and Ches's strangely driven investigation allow the psychologist to recall and relate times in his life that give the reader a greater sense of the man - and a profound understanding of the crime. This layering of the story reveal his younger self, growing up in postwar UK, joining the navy, his decision to become a psychologist. It also a love story, a gentle love story of a decades old marriage, all the familiarity and affection that go with a successful marriage.
Ches begins to lose his sight soon after his marriage and McNeish's reflective, insightful descriptions of the experience of blindness showcase the writer's sparsely poetic style;
"You know the that lovely creaking sound of the thwarts you get when you're at sea? The sound you get lying in your bunk below the waterline when the ship rolls? That's what a blind man feels when he enters into the windiness of the day with his pores pricked."
The novel is progressed by such descriptions, which allowed this reader to really engage with the descriptive yet tight writing.
This is a book that straddles the genre/literature divide. It could be termed a literary thriller and sit as easily in a general fiction section as the crime section of a bookshop - it is narrative driven and involves a crime.
It raises some of the same questions as the awarding of the Miles Franklin award to Peter Temple's 'Truth' did - Can a genre novel be adequately considered literature? - and it answers with a resounding yes.
McNeish has crafted a novel that not only tells a curious story of an intelligent and seeking man reflecting on a long life, he has hung it from the suspenseful scaffolding of the story of the eponymous crime.

"I stumble out to study the miseries of the world as best I can" says Ches - and in letting him do so, McNeish has given the reader opportunity to also study these miseries.

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