Scribe, April 2007
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
Will Powers, Australia's worst Shakespearean actor and the man with the
biggest superiority complex either side of the black stump is back. It's
October, 1942 and the Japanese are making rapid progress south through
Papua New Guinea. It is widely believed that it won't be long before they
land on Australia's shores.
Will is asked by Army Intelligence to go undercover and join a small
vaudeville entertainment troop. This means heading to the Northern
Territory to investigate the suspicious deaths of three men in a top
secret military unit: the North Australia Observer Unit (NAOU – or the
Nackeroos as they are called). These men are assigned to patrol the Top
End in small groups watching for signs of enemy activity.
Although he feels vaudeville is beneath his enormous talent, Will agrees
to accept the assignment because of the presence of his younger brother in
one of the Units. It will make his mother happy to hear firsthand about
her youngest son and might help with Will's rather strained relationship
with her. Then again, all the relationships in Will's life are rather
It's the Wet season in the Northern Territory and Will has visions of
relaxing in a lush tropical paradise, shaded by palm trees with gently
falling rain to cool his brow. The reality is nothing like that. Yes,
there is rain, but it is torrential, turning the earth into thick, sticky
mud. It is hot and humid, and when it's not raining there are flies,
mosquitoes, scorpions and other assorted creepy crawlies, most of which
bite or sting. Not exactly the assignment Will had been expecting.
Very soon after he arrives, there are two more deaths. One man has had a
serious case of dengue fever, the other apparently shoots himself after
the loss of his mate. Conditions up there can very quickly drive a man
mad. However, Will knows what the men in the Unit apparently don't. There
is a murderer on the loose and Will is determined to catch him.
If there is one thing Will can be relied upon, it is to get things
spectacularly wrong. It is his one true talent. So we follow Will as he
blunders his way about this harsh environment making life even more
unbearable for the men he is investigating. There's one thing for sure, if
there is a killer among them then Will is lining himself up to be the next
victim. Of course, Will finds himself in trouble and his every attempt to
extricate himself only finds him deeper in the mire. He wouldn't be Will
if this didn't happen to him.
AMONGST THE DEAD is Robert Gott's third in the William Power series. While
Will is still as annoyingly blind to what is under his nose as ever, there
are glimpses that he might one day recognise his failings and grow up a
little. Gott relies on Will's flaws for the humour of his books. It's the
hook on which he hangs his stories and it would be very easy for this to
become a little stale, but he has avoided this by his well researched
account of a secret military operation conducted by a little-known group
of men. Just how difficult life was in that part of the world during World
War II is largely unappreciated by contemporary society. We have
technology: air-conditioners, satellite phones, medi-vac facilities,
Internet, etc. etc. The NAOU relied on horses and mules and their only
lines of communication with the outside world was by Morse Code when
weather conditions allowed. Any minor illness had the potential to kill.
There may be some who have found that the joke of Will has worn thin and
are considering giving up on the series, but stick with AMONGST THE DEAD.
It's worth it for the insights into an almost unknown military unit.
For more information about the North Australia Observation Unit visit.
May 2007 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem
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