ME & RORY MACBEATH (Hachette) by Richard Beasley is reminiscent of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Twelve year old Jake Taylor lives with his single parent barrister mum, Harriet, in a street in suburban Adelaide. It’s the street that houses his best friend, Robbie Duncan, son of the local cop, an emigrant from Scotland.
Into their street comes another kid from Caledonia, Rory Macbeath, moving in with his mum, dad, older brother and sister. He’s the same age as Jake and Robbie and soon the boys are mates.
Duncan! Macbeath! Is this some Shakespearean pastiche, you may ask? Not really, but there is sleeping murder and pricking of thumbs, and something this way comes.
A departure from Richard Beasley’s two previous novels, HELL HAS HARBOUR VIEWS and THE AMBULANCE CHASER, both full of adult satirical and sardonic splendour, this take is from the kids’ point of view, and while some of Beasley’s staple humour rears its hilarious head, it steers its course true to tone of pre-teens trying to figure the various vagaries of adults.
There’s the long hot summer that seems seared into every sinew of Australian youth, the street cricket, the public swimming pool, fishing trips, backyard camp-outs, grumpy old bugger neighbours, fledgling attraction to the opposite sex.
Casting a shadow over these hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer is the spectre of domestic violence, which could have been a huge downer, but Beasley, like Harper Lee, manages to make the story thrillingly palatable.
Beasley the writer creates a lovely sense of place and peoples it with wonderful characters. Mothers, fathers, siblings, step-parents, judges, cops, nice and nasty neighbours – comic, tragic, and above all, human – Beasley’s characters are warmly drawn and although they live in a time nearly four decades ago, in a place called Rose Avenue, there is no tint of rose coloured glasses.
Beasley the barrister, for that is his means of making a living, has the practical experience of making the courtroom scenes sizzle with a marvelous verisimilitude. The courtroom drama dénouement is alone worth the price of purchase of this pleasing and pleasurable reading experience. His creation of Harriet, known to family and friends as Harry, is the literary love child of Atticus Finch or perhaps his grand-daughter, out of Scout, transplanted from America’s south to South Australia to champion the rule of law.
Harriet is a chain smoking, hard drinking, fast talking, hard headed, soft hearted woman instilling in her son daily doses of irony and finely honed sense of social justice. By no means a goody two shoes, though, she’s pragmatic about some of the clients she has defended, some of dubious repute, but she has an inherent hunger for litigation and mitigation. Practising at a time when fewer women were at the bar and Family Law was going through major reform, Harry is a formidable advocate, a fierce and fearless fighter for fairness and equality.
Beasley was appointed silk a couple of years ago – we should be attorney-ly grateful that he gives of his spare time a story as entertaining and edifying as ME & RORY MACBEATH.