This is a book that relies on a fudged blurb to draw readers in. “Aged six, Robert Drewe moved with his family from Melbourne to Perth, the world’s most isolated city – and proud of it. This sun-baked coast was innocently proud, too, of its tranquillity and friendliness. Then a man he knew murdered a boy he also knew.”
The murder happened when the author was already a fully grown man working as a journalist and the boy who was murdered was also fully grown by that stage and about to embark on a veterinary science course. The murderer was someone who had worked for the author’s father and occasionally made deliveries to the family home but who had long before been fired for theft. And it was a full nine months between the murder and the murderer being identified and arrested, during which time the author had no knowledge of who the killer was.
The memoir is actually 233 pages in before the story gets around to the man he knew murdering a boy he also knew. Everything before that is a well-written memoir of a very ordinary life. Most everything after that is as well. So I felt a little bit cheated. I thought perhaps it was going to be a fifty/fifty split between a memoir of the author and a history of the killer. It was more like ninety-nine/one split.
There are so many memoirs of ordinary people these days that offer insights into particular periods in history but lack any important historical reason for having been written. Yes, the murderer the author vaguely knew was the last man executed in Western Australia before capital punishment was outlawed. But so what? The author’s connection was tenuous. My cousin once dated a man who would later go on to murder his mother and stepfather and it has never once occurred to me to write and publish my average life story on the pretext of that connection.
Other than these gripes, The Shark Net is a perfectly fine memoir. The author writes well and conveys perfectly a sense of what it was like to live in Perth during the 1950s and 1960s as a child. But it’s nothing more than that.
If you like reading memoirs, and specifically the memoirs of people who aren’t famous or accomplished or important historical figures, then you’ll no doubt like this book. But if you’re looking for a book about someone who made an impact or changed things or was important in and of himself, then this isn’t it.
*First published on Goodreads 4 April 2016