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.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:
"`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."
"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."
© Peter Rozovsky 2011