Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meet Scobie Malone

There's considerable sociological interest to The High Commissioner  (1966), first of Jon Cleary's twenty Scobie Malone novels.

The book takes Malone from Sydney to London, where he is to arrest the Australian high commissioner on a murder charge. The first chapters offer  the familiar clash between police work and politics and, since the police officer is the protagonist, one knows who the good guy is. But Cleary's political sketches are move vivid than most. Not only do inter- and intra-party rivalries come into play, but tension between state and federal branches as well. The opening chapters also use anticlimax as an effective suspense-builder.

But I liked the sociological detail best, notably Malone's surprise and amusement at London's sounds and sights. The trip is his first out of Australia, and the London scenes may have struck a chord in a country flush with postwar prosperity and reaching out to the world.  

Here's a bit of Cleary's innocent abroad:
"The taxi pulled in before the big four-storied house. Malone got out and, conditioned by another habit, paid the driver the exact amount on the meter.

"`You Aussies,' said the driver, an economist from Bethnal Green. `I bet you don't have any balance of payments deficit.'

"Malone, who had never tipped a taxi driver in his life, looked at the man blankly. `Get lost,' said the latter, and drove off, gnashing is gears instead of his teeth."
Cleary also takes an ironical slap at the White Australia immigration policy, still in force at the time of the book's publication. And he has Malone's boss deliver what seems to this outsider a declaration of Australia's sense of itself:
"Take Flannery, for instance. I'd bet not one percent of this State's population could tell you anything about his early life. They couldn't care less. It's what you are today that counts in this country, not what you were."
***
Cleary, who died in 2010 at 92, was prolific and much-honored. He wrote more than fifty books, and his honors include Edgar and Ned Kelly Awards for best novel and the first Ned Kelly Award for lifetime achievement. Read more about Cleary, including links to several interviews.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

Labels: , ,

18 Comments:

Blogger Michael Malone said...

Other people must have experienced this before, but it's weird to see my name (Malone) being used for a character in a book.

Must check it out.

May 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You should also look up Craig Rice's books featuring the wise-cracking, hard-drinking, money-lacking John J. Malone.

May 26, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

I read this when it was first published. Unfortunately for me I could never find more than a few of the series at bookstores or in libraries.

I liked it and I liked Malone.

May 26, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Michael, my last name is the same as that of the most visible member of boy band N'Sync, now becoming a halfway decent actor, ex-escort to Cameron Diaz, and (apparently) pretty good guy. When the band first hit big we got phone calls every weekend from the slumber party tweens trying to find him.

The upside is we no longer have to spell our name; we just say "like Justin" and that's the end of that bit of uncertainty.

May 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I read one description of Scobie Malone as likeable, and he is. In this first book, he develops a sympathy for the high commissioner whom it is his job to arrest, and he is enderaingly a bit at sea in London.

But I like the undercurrent of an Australian character wondering about his country's place in the world. The opening chapters take place against the background of a big international conference, which gives Cleary and his protagonist a chance to muse about all these Asians and AMericans and Africans in whose midst they find themselves. And, given the time. the U.S. and both Vietnams naturally come in for a mention or two.

May 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, Philadelphia buses have recently been sporting advertisements for a personal-injury lawyer named Juston Bieber.

May 26, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

You're serious? That's too funny.

May 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll try to remember to have my camera with me while commuting so I can offer visual evidence, if the posters are still up. That's got to be the guy's real name. Nobody would stoop so low as to change his name to "Juston Bieber," would he?

May 27, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

The theme of the book in question took my attention as murder in high places is in the air these days.

Australians have the name of being tight fisted, but that is not my experience.

"http://moderntwist2.blogspot.com/2011/05/small-poppy-syndrome.html#links"


And I don't get the Juston Bieber joke and could do with an explanation, if anybody has a moment, please.

May 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perhaps tipping cabbies is not the custom in Australia, or was not in 1966. This does not imply that Australiana are tight-fisted, just that they spend their money elsewhere. Maybe taxi drivers are paid better down under. I was told years ago by an American friend that Canadians tip low, though.

As it happens, I have just got off an Amtrak Acela express train. Shcokingly for America, the prices on the food menu were honest prices -- taxes included. This is very much against the North American custom, in which the listed, advertised price has nothing to do with what the customer pays, especially for accommodations, where taxes of all kinds are rife.

The Justin Bieber joke is simply that Linkmeister shares one name with a teen idol, but I found a lawyer here who shares two names. I wonder what this does for his business. Do preteen girls have lots of money to spend on lawyers?

May 27, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Those Aussies do like their horses, don't they? And their jockeys. What other country would produce a writer that would name a major character after a jockey (Scobie Breasley)?

Scobie Breasley (named after the horsetrainer James Scobie, originally a Scot, poor fellow) won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1958 on a horse called Ballymoss trained by a fellow called Vincent O'Brien who operated out of a place called Ballydoyle in Tipperary. Horse-racing history hasn't been the same since.

I saw the movie The Sundowners years ago, without realising it was based on a Cleary book. I do remember Robert Mitchum starred in it.

Robert Mitchum and horses? Elisabeth should find it hard to contain herself. Oops, perhaps I shouldn't have said that. No offence meant.

YouTube does have a clip of the closing credits of the 1975 Aussie movie Scobie Malone. It does look like it's got one or two interesting things to look at but they can keep that Scobie Malone song.

Good post, Peter.

May 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No headphones here, but I'll listen to those clips when I'm technologically equipped to do so.

Thanks for explaining the origin of the character's name. I never thought that I'd like a book with a character named Scobie. I'd have thought the name too goofy and happy.

May 27, 2011  
Blogger Gary Corby said...

So as an Australian I feel professionally qualified to comment.

Tipping is virtually non-existent here. You might in a restaurant round up to the nearest ten, or round up a taxi fare to the nearest dollar, but that'd be it, and even then it's for everyone's convenience. Waiters don't starve because there's a legally mandated minimum wage that is many multiples of the US equivalent. Despite no tipping, I'd wager the average Australian waiter earns more than the average American waiter.

Knowing how much to tip in the US is a completely black art to me and I know I've alternately outraged and delighted recipients. Sorry about that.

Conversely, it's a legal requirement to always state prices including all possible taxes. The basic rule is, the price you name is the price, not a cent more or less. Even though I know better, to this day I get a shock when I pay for hotels in the US.

Justin Bieber has recently passed through Sydney. This seems like a cruel joke to play on an ally.

On liking horses...the nation stops for only two events: ANZAC Day, in which we celebrate our worst military defeat ever, and the Melbourne Cup, a horse race. Even as I write this my elder daughter is out riding a horse over jumps.

I didn't realize Jon Cleary had won an Edgar!

May 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gary, Cleary won the best-novel Edgar in 1975 for Peter's Pence.

The rule of thumb for years on tipping waiters and waitresses has been 15 percent. I have recently eaten at a restaurant where the bill includes what the tip would be at various levels -- starting at 18 percent.

I don't know the history and evolution of pricing and tipping practice in America, but an unwary visitor to the U.S. would have every reason to suspect he is being ripped off. A hotel room advertised at $100 a night winds up costing $135? Waiters expect extra money? (We're not exactly big on seeing that workers at the lower end earn a living wage here.)

May 27, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Dick Francis's In the Frame took place in Australia, and I think it was during the run-up to the Melbourne Cup.

We had a recent house guest from Perth.

May 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perth is about as far as one can get. I understand that Australian horse racing is available on TV here.

The America's Cup was held off Perth one year, I think, which makes my v-word especially appropriate: squall

May 28, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

As far as one can get from what? Remember I live on one of the most isolated land masses in the world (by miles, anyway).

May 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As far as one can get from our country and still be in Australia!

May 28, 2011  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home