Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 26, 2018

Comfort Zone (2016), by Lindsay Tanner

Lindsay Tanner is the former finance minister in the Rudd Government during the Global Financial Crisis.  He and his colleagues were the ones who devised the strategies for staving off the GFC in Australia, so I have a soft spot for his writing.  Not enough, alas, to like Comfort Zone much…

Tanner took up writing after retiring from the parliament, and wrote a splendid book called Sideshow (which I reviewed here) but I think he should stick to writing about the political scene. Comfort Zone is a well-intentioned but too-didactic would-be comic mystery with a wildly-convoluted plot.

The central character Jack Van Duyn is an unprepossessing middle-aged taxi-driver who resents the preponderance of rival drivers from other countries.  Despite being of refugee origin himself, he is overtly racist, joining in when passengers sound off in his cab.  He is particularly down on Somali cabbies, but lo! all that changes when he encounters the enigmatic (and, natch, beautiful) Somali single mother called Farhia.  Led (more from embarrassment than by heroism) into rescuing Farhia’s sons from being beaten up, Jack (who hasn’t had a relationship in years, and not a successful one, ever) becomes enamoured of Farhia and engineers reasons to see her. One of these reasons to see her includes returning a mysterious blue notebook with Somali script in it. Jack, for no apparent logical reason, photographs these pages with his phone, which draws him into trouble with those who were menacing Farhia to get possession of it. Oh yes, and also with ASIO.

His co-rescuer, Matt, misinterprets Jack’s ‘heroism’ and thinks he might be a handy man to know.  An investment banker on his way up, he does deals for his boss, who has a drug habit, and therefore an anonymous cabbie is an ideal courier.

Sucked into all sorts of murky enterprises which he doesn’t understand, Jack gets into various punch-ups in murky Carlton old-style pubs, yet despite being overweight and unfit, he always manages to make unlikely escapes into the back lanes.  And he also, despite being overweight and unfit, attracts the interest of Emily (in her forties) who is down on her luck with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.)

Comfort Zone is a bit like Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist without the flair.  Deliberately written as commercial fiction pitched at a target audience, by an author working out of his usual genre so as to convey a social message, Comfort Zone has an overt moral.  It’s meant to be, that if racists have contact with the people they despise, they will change their ways.  However, the worst failing of this book is that undercuts its own message with its clunky plot.  The Somalis in this novel are mixed up in thuggery and violence, and they have brought their political and criminal problems with them.  Grist to the racists’ mill…

Author: Lindsay Tanner
Title: Comfort Zone
Publisher: Scribe Publishing, 2016, 240 pages
ISBN: 9781925321029
Source: Kingston Library



  1. I enjoyed your analysis, and yes Lindsay Tanner was one of the good guys. Far fewer of them around these days. I’m sure he knows Carlton much better than I, but I wonder where are those remaining old fashioned pubs?


    • He does name them, but notes that they are few and far between now. I can’t remember the others but mentions the passing of The Lemon Tree. The ones in the book are what The EX used to refer to as Bloodhouses, pubs he would never take me into.


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