A Beautiful Moment in China

A Beautiful Moment in China
Yes, I look weathered; it had been a long climb. But I was about to reach the Buddhist temple outside of Shao Xing.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Dark Stories but Brilliant Writing

The Midnight Promise, by Zane Lovitt

The protagonist of this book, John Dorn, began his business calling himself a “private inquiry agent” rather than private investigator.  After leaving the police force, you see, he still had some ideals and wanted to distinguish himself from the corrupt and ruthless types he knew in the profession.  The book comprises ten stories, each dealing with a different case, and each case is a step deeper for Dorn into the psychological morass which bottomed only when he made a promise to himself.

It was a long time after he had obtained his licence, Dorn tells us in his prologue: “After I started the drinking and after I was kicked out of my home and after my head got stuck all the way up my arse.  I made my promise in a border town in the middle of nowhere, at what was literally my darkest hour. There was even a clock tower chiming midnight, right at the moment I said the words, if you believe it.”

The promise occurs at the very end of the last story.  Until then we are absorbed in a world where Dorn deals with drug addicts, psychopaths, suicidal teenagers, inter-ethnic violence, feuding porn-store operators and coppers who are burnt-out or corrupt.  He is sometimes willing to take on a case unpaid because he feels sorry for the client.  At other times he isn’t above telling someone he distrusts to “**** off” when they beg his services but plead poverty.  And all the time his own financial status grows more and more dire.

Zane Lovitt lives in Melbourne, Australia.  While several of the stories have been published elsewhere, this is his first book—and what a book it is!

As the narrator John Dorn is both intelligent and reflective, casting a severe light on himself as much as on other people in his dark and gritty world.  While the language can get into the gutter with the characters it can also be original, incisive and vivid.  This is literary detective fiction at its best.

It’s not a “who-dunnit”: the focus is much more on the people than on the crimes in which they are tangled.  Most of them are unlikeable at best.  One exception is Demetri, the lawyer, who is a faithful friend despite all Dorn’s self-absorption, selfishness and cruel ingratitude.  And there is a kernel of decent humanity in the detective himself that eventually manages to realise some of its potential, as the prologue suggests:

“I used to lug my stories around with me like caged birds, screeching and crapping and demanding all my attention.  I dwelt on my stories, which means I dwelt on myself. And sure, everybody does that, but I was the Super Heavyweight Champion.  I was the CEO…And that’s what this is.  This is the tumbling road to a single moment that changed all that.”

The stories are gripping and insightful, even at their ugliest.  I could not stop reading them and I’m glad of the experience.  And I’m glad to know from the prologue that John Dorn came through and healed because of his promise that midnight.

“The promise I made was that I’d never let it become about me.  Or at least, never again.”

The book was published in print by Text Publishing in 2012 and is also available in digital form.  May it be only the first of many by this excellent author.