Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 8, 2019

Minotaur, by Peter Goldsworthy

Peter Goldsworthy AM (b. 1951) is a versatile author, but Minotaur is, I think, his first venture into writing a thriller.  I read most of his novels before I started this blog, so the only reviews here are of his memoir, His Stupid Boyhood (2013), and of Everything I Knew (2008) which was shortlisted for the PMs Literary Award in 2009.  But I certainly never thought of him as a writer of genre fiction, and I still don’t. Minotaur is a thriller, but it’s much more interesting than that.

This is the blurb:

Peter Goldsworthy’s new novel features a blind detective determined to deliver justice to the man who shot him, even though his failed assassin has broken out of jail and is equally determined to finish the job. Cleverly structured around the five senses, and with the action confined to one week, it’s pacey and taut, with the cat-and-mouse tension leavened by lighter interludes.

Goldsworthy is interested in all that his protagonist cannot see, as he is forced to meet evil, acting on a trust in his senses, and the ineluctable mystery that is memory.

The part-man, part-bull Minotaur of Greek legend was so dangerous that King Minos of Crete had it incarcerated in a maze, until Theseus successfully killed it.  The significance of this, in terms of the novel, is that both Theseus and the Minotaur were trapped in the maze, and Theseus only escapes through the love of a woman, i.e. Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter. In Goldsworthy’s novel, Detective Sergeant Rick Zadow is trapped in his house not just by his blindness but also by a desire for vengeance that is not much different to the vengeful escapee’s.  I won’t share whether he is saved by the love of a woman or not, because that would be a spoiler!

There’s a small cast of characters.  There is Zadow, blinded by a shot from the man who has now escaped from prison.  He has an absent wife called Willow a.k.a. Willowpedia because she’s a know-it-all, and there are two psychiatrists who will be combatants in the court case to award him compensation.  His former colleague Terry drops by to tell him the good news and to suggest possibilities for getting back to work, and there’s Annie, a desirable policewoman who shares the same ‘flexible’ attitude towards administering the law when it suits.

Zadow gets about with a cane, a failed guide dog called Scout and a digital personal assistant called (you guessed it) Siri.  His house has been modified as a Smart House, which responds via Siri to commands such as turning off the lights.  As is apparently common, his other senses have heightened to compensate for the loss of his sight.  Nevertheless, one might think that he would feel vulnerable, knowing that his nemesis is on the loose, but on the contrary, Zadow welcomes the situation and goes out of his way to let the media broadcast his whereabouts.  And he sets a very clever trap.

Dialogue is witty and sharp, especially the scenes with the psychiatrists who struggle to retain their professionalism when he baits them.  In many ways Zadow is his own worst enemy, and that’s partly because he is obsessed with confronting the evil.  What’s also interesting is Goldsworthy’s portrayal of the absent wife: it reminded me of Rodney Hall’s A Stolen Season (see my review) in the way that it shone a light on how injury-acquired disability affects not just the person but family too.  In A Stolen Season a disaffected wife has to cope with the expectation that she will be a loving and supportive partner, after the husband she’d been planning to leave comes back from Iraq a shattered man. In Minotaur Zadow’s wife has to deal with his sudden blindness and irascible temper.  When he pleads his case for forgiveness and makes all the usual promises, he sounds just like any other man in this situation.  Given his disability, are there mitigating circumstances?  Will readers forgive, whether the wife does or not? That’s a question for book clubs to ponder.

The main question however, hovers around the Old Testament desire for retribution.  Justice, retribution and vengeance are on a continuum, and Zadow wants an eye for an eye.  His blind spots are not just because he can’t see.

BTW, apropos of nothing at all, I wonder if Goldsworthy is a climate change denier.  On page 120 there’s an exchange about a reporter called Sophie, who made her name with a hard-hitting investigation into climate change and the flooding of the Pacific Islands.

A louder bell rang, not so much the series itself, as Willowpedia railing against it, episode after episode.  ‘They’re living coral atolls, you f— bimbo! They grow with the rising seas.  They’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  Some basic science please, not this pseudo-religious claptrap!’ The program obviously meant a lot to her, because she always went back and watched the next episode — dare I say, religiously.  ‘What next? The End is Nigh! Punish us, O Gaia, for our carbon sins!
Oh, f— me, stick to saving cure baby animals, moron!’

There seems to be no relevant reason for this snippet, except to expose what might, or might not be, faulty science in climate change reporting, and for this character Willow to demean a woman journalist. It’s a rather odd flaw in an otherwise enjoyable book.

Author: Peter Goldsworthy
Title: Minotaur
Publisher: Viking (Penguin Random House), 2019, 326 pages
ISBN: 9780143795698
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: Minotaur $25.92


Responses

  1. Like you, I’ve read all of Peter Goldsworthy’s books and love them for their originality, snappy dialogue and characterisation. Sounds like another wonderful read! Love the book cover as well! Will shortly read Rodney Hall’s A Stolen Season, and it’s interesting that two such eminent authors have sought to tackle the same theme of forgiveness in their most recent books.

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    • Forgot to mention that I also interviewed Goldsworthy for my book Celebrating Australian Writing, and he was the kindest and patient man, happy to sit in a fairly dirty small car as a tall man so the audio recording for my then radio program wouldn’t suffer from the wind buffeting the car from the outside.

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      • Oh, that is hilarious!
        I know we shouldn’t do this because writers can of course be as nasty as anyone else, but I’ve always thought of him as a nice man because of the books he writes and the issues he seems to care about.

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    • Yes, I was intrigued by the cover, obviously an allusion to the beast in the protagonist, but then there’s the pale pink background. Clever, I reckon.
      I love Rodney Hall’s books, he’s such a wise and thoughtful writer.

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  2. I’m intrigued by the connection to this myth – a pet story of mine – and this is a new-to-me author (or, else, I’ve forgotten earlier exposure to his work). Like you, I would really wonder at that snippet you’ve quoted, especially if it doesn’t seem to be connected to any other aspect of the story. But, then, a lot can be put off to character building!

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    • Ah… now that’s interesting… why is that one a ‘pet story’ of yours? (My favourite is the Cyclops and that’s because Ulysses is so clearly the bad guy who trespasses in so many ways and I used to love discussing it with my students.)
      Did you see how well our Melbourne students in the Climate Strike? By all accounts the best turnout in the country:)

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