True West by David Whish-Wilson
If you want to get truly knocked about by a book, True West is what you want in front of you. Set in Western Australia in 1988, this is the visceral tale of Lee Southern, a young man driving south, away from a bad life he’s literally set aflame, feeling hopeful that he’s going towards something better. With a freshly set-up tow rig and, frankly, minimal expertise in the field, he’s hoping to sit on Perth’s freeways and help stranded cars, get a little cash together, see if he can make good now that his father is dead and he has to use his brutally won survivalist skills all on his own.
Not even twenty-four hours after he arrives, he seems to get on the wrong side of the wrong people and soon he’s fighting for his life, his truck, and his future. The dirty past of everybody he knows has followed him hundreds of kilometres and there’s no end to the bad people around that want a part of him: those that want revenge for Lee’s dramatic exit up north, those that think somebody with Lee’s skills might be useful for their ‘patriotic’ plans for WA, and everyone driving the murky line in-between.
Whish-Wilson’s Western Australia is alive, its heart beating, its outback a swirl of dust and history, roads like scars, the scent of its plants as strong as the ocean’s salty brine. Lee is a hell of a character: young, determined, practical, tough and with a heart underneath all that calloused skin. When he’s manipulated into being part of the Australian Patriotic Movement – aka the APM, aka a violent white nationalist party with its sights set on parliament – it makes for almost unbearably tense reading. But Whish-Wilson does action like the fists are leaping out of the page and breaking your nose and pulling you right back in. This is compelling, thrilling, and still feels like it could be played out today in the white nationalist fringes of Australian politics. Hook yourself up to this one.