Monday, December 10, 2018

Book Review: 'The Elephant Tree' by R.D. Ronald

The Elephant Tree by R.D. Ronald

‘History is repeating itself, Scott. The cycle of suffering goes on.’

British author R.D. Ronald made his literary debut with THE ELEPHANT TREE written in 2010. He has since published THE ZOMBIE ROOM. Ronald describes himself as a “transgressive novelist” – ‘A genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual or illicit ways. Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressive fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social or nihilistic.’ Of interest for the topic of this novel, R.D. has served prison time for growing cannabis and it was while he was imprisoned that he began THE ELEPHANT TREE. This fact is particularly interesting now that in 2018 cannabis is legal in most of the countries!

Ronald’s writing is punctuated with insights into the underbelly of the crime world. He writes extremely well as the opening of his book attests – ‘The call came in at 01:48 on Saturday morning as Detective Mark Fallon was catching up on his paperwork at the station. A shooting at Aura nightclub, one of the more luxurious establishments in Garden Heights. Fallon’s partner Alan Bryson pulled their green Volvo up behind some squad cars already outside the club. Officers on the scene were taking statements. A few clubbers had been detained for questioning; others hung around hoping something interesting would happen. Fallon stepped over empty beer bottles and discarded Chinese food cartons that lay on the pavement. An empty pizza box lid opened and closed like the mouth of a mute in the cold night breeze. ‘Wait out here Alan,’ Fallon said. ‘Talk to this lot, get some impressions.’ The Aura manager was hovering in the entrance. ‘Nick Baker,’ he said, giving Fallon a tremulous handshake. Baker wore a sharp-fitting fashionable suit, or it would have been if he was ten years younger and a few inches narrower in the waist. Fallon guessed he was forty-five. He looked distressed, probably because the victim was his brother. ‘How is he doing?’ Detective Fallon asked. ‘Fred, he’s stable, thanks for asking. The Doctors say he was lucky, no arteries or organs were hit in the attack, just tissue damage and blood loss.’ ‘Do you have any reason to suspect your brother was targeted?’ he asked, and flipped open his notebook. ‘No, not at all,’ the manager replied, perhaps a little too quickly, Fallon thought. His eyes darted around the room as he spoke, never settling on anything for more than a second before they took flight again. ‘Surely it was just a random act of aggression.’ ‘A random act of aggression outside the club, perhaps. Maybe a fist-fight inside. But a shooting in a prestigious venue like this one would appear to be anything other than random, Mr Baker. Especially considering the security measures you have in place,’ Fallon said, and tapped the metal detector archway they stood beside at the club’s entrance. ‘I’m presuming everyone has to walk through here when they come in, no exceptions?’ ‘Yes, I mean no – no exceptions,’ the manager confirmed.’

With that sample the plot is as follows: ‘Mark Fallon is an overworked detective investigating a spate of attacks at a string of high profile city centre nightclubs. Scott is a dejected 24 year old struggling to make ends meet working for his brother and supplementing his income with a small-scale drug dealing operation. Angela is an attractive 23 year old, raised by her father, a career criminal and small time drug dealer who supplies Scott with cannabis. This is a chilling tale spanning a few months in the lives of Scott and Angela, where realizations about the present combine with shocking revelations from the past leading to an apocalyptic climax where they no longer know whom they can trust.’

Raw, real, atmospheric and visceral, this is crime writing at its finest. R.D. Ronald is an important author to watch. Highly recommended. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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