26 September 2023


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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By James O’Loghlin, Bonnier Echo, $29.99.

Australian lawyer, journalist and comedian James O’Loghlin draws on his time as a legal aid lawyer in the 1990s as the basis of his new novel Criminals. The book revolves around three characters, connected by an armed robbery, an event which causes each of them to reconsider their lives and move in new directions.

Dean is a small time thief and drug addict, getting by on home break-ins. After breaking his bail conditions he decides that if he can make one big score he can get out of Sydney and start a new life. That score is the Blacktown Leagues Club where ex-cop Sarah is working behind the bar and depressed alcoholic Mary has come for a drink. Dean and his hapless sidekick actually get away with the money but Sarah, cop senses twitching, thinks she recognises him. She starts to help the police to track him down and in doing so, re-examines the circumstances that led her to leave the police. Mary, on the other hand takes this event as a wakeup call and decides that a life of crime might bring her out of the depressive spiral that she is in.

Criminals is a very street level urban story. There are no splashy action scenes or criminal masterminds. There are a few twists in each of the three tales but they are ones that astute readers will see coming from a long way away. The hook here is in the human interest. O’Loghlin has delivered three very different characters, all trying to deal with the decisions they have made and the mess that has made of their lives. He has a clear eyed compassion for the three so that while the stories are at best tangentially connected until close to the end of the book, readers will want to stick with the three to see how their lives turn out.

So much crime fiction is about murder and big schemes or serial killers and alcoholic but hyper-intuitive detectives. But the majority crime is exactly how it is portrayed in O’Loghlin’s book – petty theft, minor drug dealing, low level corruption. And while this might not be as sexy, it is much closer to real life. O’Loghlin successfully illuminates that world through these three extremely flawed but redeemable characters, characters who are just as likely to be people who readers are sitting next to on the bus.

Over 800 more reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

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