I’ve always admired Lindsay Tanner. He was one of Australia’s most thoughtful politicians, with an all-too-rare combination of intellect and integrity.
He was also one of the few modern MPs to write, penning a number of non-fiction books over the years about politics, policy and the media.
Comfort Zone is his first foray into fiction. It’s a valiant attempt at a politically-charged crime thriller that sadly misses the mark.
The story revolves around Jack, a middle-aged Melbourne cabbie with a sad and empty life. He’s a casual racist who – after inadvertently getting entangled with the underworld – finds himself falling in love with a Somali migrant. A man who’s life once consisted of porn and pubs is soon dealing with pirates and drug dealers and ASIO agents.
It sounds juicer than it is.
Unfortunately the story has none of the intrigue or mystery or tension integral to the crime genre. The plot plods along from one minor scuffle to another but the stakes never feel high, the characters never truly threatened.
The prose is never outright bad but it’s frequently clunky, particularly the dialogue. Tanner’s striving for realism but his writing has no bite, no grit.
He tries to elevate the novel with weighty themes of ignorance and multiculturalism. But the core message – racism is bad – feels both belaboured and half-hearted. Tanner has none of the rage that fuelled Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist for example, a book with which Comfort Zone shares some superficial similarities.
Hard to recommend.
Next: my first non-fiction book of 2016.
DISCLAIMER: I was supplied a copy of Comfort Zone by the publisher, Scribe.