By KEITH JACKSON – posted on PNG Attitude blog
Death of a Coast Watcher by Anthony English, Monsoon Books, Burrough on the Hill Leics UK, 2020, 479 pages. Kindle $9.56, paperback $22.75 from Amazon Books
NOOSA – A psychological thriller with a strong connection to wartime events in Papua New Guinea has been shortlisted by the London-based Society of Authors for an award for a first novel by a writer aged over 60.
Death of a Coast Watcher, by Australian author Anthony English, reviewed early last year in PNG Attitude, has made it to the top niche of entries for this year’s Paul Torday Memorial Prize which will be announced on 1 June.
The prize is named for British writer Paul Torday, who published his first novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, at the age of 60.
The judging panel praised the broad selection of works this year, with Donald Murray commenting that “judging was like embarking on an exploration of the world, both in its past and present shapes and forms.
“I felt both enriched and honoured by many of my encounters during the experience.”
Philip Tatham, the publisher of Monsoon Books, expressed pride that one of the firm’s authors was shortlisted for the award.
“We publish books by authors in their twenties to their nineties – our oldest author is about to release his seventh novel for us aged 96,” Tatham said.
“Anthony English’s psychological thriller is set in parts of the world that very few people will have the chance to visit.
“We were immediately drawn to its unusual setting as well as to its finely crafted prose and thought-provoking story about the horrors of war and the abuses and atrocities committed in war.”
Author Robert Forster, who reviewed Death of a Coast Watcher for PNG Attitude, called the book, “erudite in its exploration of unusually difficult issues and ideas.
“He is merciless in the dissection of his characters, and often employs the hatchet precision of a butcher’s block when doing so,” Forster observed of his erstwhile fellow kiap English, who went on similar work on what are now Kiribati and Tuvalu and then development projects in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Along with other pre-independence kiaps, English was awarded the Police Overseas Service Medal by the Australian government in 2013.
“His greatest achievement in the book,” writes Forster,” is to have sat convincingly inside the heads of his principal characters, including the Tolai women, and relayed their most sensitive innermost feeling and thoughts.”
The novel starts in 1943 Bougainville and takes the reader between World War II and 1970s Bougainville and 1970s Kiribati before moving to 1980s Kyoto in Japan.
The book “plays with the misunderstandings that form part of all human relationships,” writes author Nigel Barley. “It lays them bare as key to the human condition itself.’
The theme of war was picked up by Susan Blumberg-Kason in a review for Asian Review of Books: “English tackles tough questions about war [and] the question of whether those who survived will ever cease to be haunted, is left open.”
Australian academic Dr Jenny Murray-Jones commented that “I found myself totally immersed in this account of the horrors of war, where innocent indigenous women are caught up in its atrocities, demonstrating their strength and resilience.
“Memories of past events plague the minds of those who have a connection to it, to the point of obsession, as if they are possessed by the ghosts of these characters.
“An amazing read which delivers a complex tale of the injustices of war and a fight for survival, very close to home.”
Award winners will be announced on Wednesday 1 June at a ceremony in Southwark Cathedral, London, which will be live streamed.