Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 28, 2009

Murder on the Apricot Coast (2008), by Marion Halligan

murder-on-the-apricot-coastIt’s been such a long time since I read anything by Marion Halligan, one of my favourite writers!  I loved her early work, especially Spider Cup (1990) and Wishbone (1994) with their cunning plots; deft characterisation; and sensual evocations of gardens, domestic interiors and the intimacy of daily life with a beloved.  I found her flirtation with strange plot constructions in The Golden Dress (1998)  less successful, and then her much-loved husband died.  The bottom fell out of her world and she wrote the Fog Garden (2001) which I took to the Op Shop unfinished.  (Why did a kindly editor not stop her from publishing it??)  Then came The Point (2003) which showed signs of a return to form, followed by ventures into crime fiction with The Apricot Colonel (2006) and Murder on the Apricot Coast (2008).  I didn’t buy them because crime fiction is not my thing at all (though I don’t mind the occasional P D James or Shane Maloney if I’m in the right mood for it) but I picked up Murder on the Apricot Coast on a whim at the library last week and coasted through it in a couple of days.


It’s rather silly.  We’re led up the garden path to various dead ends – which are intended to make us think that there’s a high level Canberra political/public service conspiracy to cover up snuff movies and a sex-slave trade.  None of this has happened and it’s too easy to tell who the killer is.  The narrator is too self-consciously an editor, and she does far too much rambling on about nothing much at all.  There are numerous barely-disguised digs at the Howard government which will date the book in no time.

valley-of-graceUndaunted by this disappointment, and with my loyalty to this fine writer undiminished, this morning I purchased Valley of Grace at Benn’s Books in Bentleigh.  The blurb tells me that it is a ‘return to Halligan’s heartland, the literary novel’ so I am optimistic.  Here’s an excerpt, found at random on page 168…

To have your father shot when you are a small child is to lack a sense of him as a person.  Even if you can remember a man who swung you up in his arms, who wore fleshy leather clothes and pressed you to cold prickling cheeks smelling of the night and cigarettes, or you learn him from a photograph smiling out from his wedding to your mother, or sitting on the parapet of a hump-backed bridge laughing at a cow in the stream below, even so your father becomes a figurine, like the small bronzes in the grandfather’s cabinet: you can take him out and hold him, cold and metal in your hand, but you cannot talk to him, not in any way that he can answer you.  He is fixed in his one gesture, shot, a hero dead for his country, source of the tears that run down your mother’s face, the pride in your grandfather’s voice, but beyond tears or pride himself.

There, now you can see why I love her writing so.  This book will make its way to the TBR long before its turn, I am sure!

BTW I am delighted to see from Wikipedia that Marion Halligan is a Member of the Order of Australia.  I would like to see more of our wonderful writers be honoured in this way!

Update: My enthusiastic review of Valley of Grace is here and you can also see a Sensational Snippet here.

Author: Marion Halligan
Title: Murder on the Apricot Coast
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library

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