Darren Keefe is “…a talented freak with no mooring,” a bad boy cricketer that never quite reaches his potential. As a young player rocketing towards the pinnacle of Australian cricket, Darren had little oversight or true coaching – no one wanted to change what was working, and if a coach tried to reel him in, his mother switched him to another team. When he starts making money, the troubles start: drugs, drinking, corruption in cricket, toxic masculinity, and so forth. There is a noir mystery threading throughout the book, although this is less successful for me than the character development and the setting.
I most enjoyed the descriptions and the plot lines around backyard cricket. The order that Wally, Darren’s older brother, imposes on their backyard pitch counterbalances the chaos in their lives – an absent father and a mother struggling to make ends meet. Darren notes: “From the day…when we take up backyard cricket, we are an independent republic of rage and obsession. Our rules, our records, our very own physics…By the time we emerge into the world beyond the paling fences, it surprises us to learn that anyone considers this a team sport.” This feral approach to cricket defines Darren’s style, while his brother develops a deeply focused, consistent type of play. The descriptions of their childhood – their intense focus on sport and each other – rang very true to me. I grew up on an isolated farm and my brother and I came up with games (starting with anything from wiffle ball to bike rides as the core element) that spiraled into heights of fun and hilarity and depths of violence and hatred. Secrecy, especially from the prying eyes of adults, was a hallmark of every game.
While the mystery was messy, overall I enjoyed learning about Darren and Wally very much. I can’t say I learned a lot about cricket, because I often didn’t understand the terms that were being tossed around, but I loved reading about it anyway. Based on this, I do plan to look for Mr. Serong’s first book, Quota.