Book Review: Quota by Jock Serong

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This book reads like it’s written by someone familiar with the realities and banalities of the Australian legal system. The problem is that Jock Serong has included it all in the story instead of filtering through them and including only the parts that make a great story.

Charlie Jardim is a prosecution lawyer on the outer. After calling a judge a heartless, corrupt, drunk, old prick during court proceedings and spending two nights in the cells on contempt charges, almost nobody wants to work with him and his mortified girlfriend (also a lawyer) has returned the engagement ring he gave her. (“I’m not going to give you that crap about it being me, because it isn’t,” she says. “It’s you.”) So he’s surprised when he’s assigned as junior counsel for a murder case in a little country town.

Harlan Weir, the senior counsel and the only person still willing to work with him, says the statement from the victim’s brother is clearly missing some vital information and he wants Charlie to head to Dauphin, a fishing town on a blustery coastline, to fill in the gaps.

Dauphin is a stereotypical small town full of blue collar workers, dodgy establishment types, the uneducated and assorted criminals. Everyone there is wary of an outsider like Charlie and none of them are inclined to help him out. Only Les, the barman at the local hotel, shows him some courtesy, offering him a place to stay and some friendly advice.

Matthew Lanegan was shot in the head, dumped on his fishing boat and set on fire after going to a meeting with Skip Murchison, the son of the richest family in town, to demand payment for delivering an illegal abalone haul to the city. Patrick Lanegan, his brother, insists he wasn’t there but Charlie doesn’t believe he would let Matthew go to the meeting alone. And he’s not going back to the city until he gets the truth out of him.

For a lawyer who is supposed to be working, Charlie spends an awful lot of time drinking at the local pub, drinking at his short-term accommodation, tagging along to parties, doing drugs, attending the football, diving in the ocean for crayfish, eating at the local Chinese restaurant and pretty much anything else he can think of to try to ingratiate himself with the townsfolk. It doesn’t work. He’s beaten up and threatened repeatedly and yet, inexplicably, Patrick decides to tell Charlie the whole story of what happened on the boat. He refuses to make an official statement though and when it comes time for the trial, it seems pretty bloody obvious that the defence lawyers are going to accuse him of lying through his teeth one way or the other.

There are so many problems with this book. First, there are very few women in it and those that do appear briefly are hopelessly stereotypical: the nagging girlfriend, the protective mother, the innocent sister. Second, Charlie is not in the least leading man material. He has a sad back story (dead brother) but no real reason for being the way he is (jaded, bland and completely uncompelling). Third, the murder that is the basis for the whole book is a bit ho hum with unsympathetic victims, dumb perpetrators and a fairly obvious trial outcome.

Nothing about this book feels original. It isn’t even worthy of being called a new take on a familiar theme. It’s just dull. I probably should have known from reading the blurb but I am always so eager to give new authors a chance that I overlooked the very vague description that was (so obviously now) concealing the complete lack of an interesting plot.

This was Jock Serong’s first book and a succession of others have followed but I won’t be reading any of them.

2 stars

*First published on Goodreads 12 August 2020

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