The things a ministerial assistant must do. Murray Whelan's exact job title and the details of his expected duties have never been fully explained but they certainly call for a deft kind of versatility in adapting to all possible situations a Labor party man might find himself inserted into. In yet another show of party shuffling, Murray's boss Angelo Agnelli has picked up the Arts portfolio, and Agnelli's need to endear himself to a new brand of people has now become Murray's personal headache. With suitable gothic dramatism, a failed artist has chosen the first day of Agnelli's new reign to off himself in the moat of an arts building, leaving behind a likewise dramatically worded suicide note which of course blames someone else for the necessity of the deed.
Being rather sceptical that anyone could be willing to die for their art these days, and with the thought that making a public comment about the lack of Government funding is rather pointless once you're dead (as in not being there to reap any possible changes or benefits as a result of your stunt), Murray rolls out the rolodex and gives himself a crash course on the fine art of receiving an arts grant. There's a lot of re-appearing names in all of this, and somehow it all comes to Murray being trapped in a closet, listening to someone else's bump'n'grind. Throw in a feared face from Murray's childhood, more than one smarmy arts patron, the usual various little toadies and conniving blood-suckers out to silence any who dares to question their mechanations and there you have it, just another day in the life of the unappreciated, the world of the Labor party underclass.
Murray Whelan's second outing takes place a few years after STIFF and uses a similar format in that Murray must juggle the affairs of his office with looking after his young son, lamenting his lack of a romantic life and out-stepping various political minefields along the way. This has less to do with the Party and more to do with the small-town nature of the Melbourne arts community that seems here to be all too quick in offering up a carcass for the culture vultures when the situation is required. This is a tighter work that spends a little less time on Australian larrikism and more on digging out the rather innocuous bad guys that lurk about in the town's business community, with the Arts here being well and truly about money, the ego and shameless elf-promotion.
Maloney manages to make Murray Whelan the hero and at the same time a likeable every-man, putting the poor creature in some truly awful situations and not being adverse to bashing him about the head a bit in order to extricate him from them. Maloney's analogies via Whelan's mouth are of the best kind - insightful, funny, wry and, we suspect, spot-on.
To acknowledge the gripes that there is little mystery in THE BRUSH OFF, one can only balance that with the fact that the writing is so bitingly good on several platforms that it seems a shame to categorize the read into any particular genre. An Australian can only cringe if these novels are described as social commentaries on our kind (whatever that may mean) and it is impossible for an Aussie not to identify something of themselves in the characters encountered in this novel. Maloney skilfully has a lend of all that we Australians regularly have a whinge about, and displays it all beautifully against a background of multi-cultural Melbourne.
Always fast and funny, Melbourne author Shane Maloney hits us between the eyes again with another crafty little adventure, starring one of us, Murray Whelan.
Like most people starting a new job, Murray Whelan finds the first day a bit bewildering and confusing. Unlike most new employees, Murray, being the political advisor to the new Minister of Arts for the Australian Labor Party Government, knows that he must get his act together. However, the murdered corpse of a minor artist is found by Murray and a friend. The police write the case off as a suicide. Murray finds himself involved in spin control within the Labor Party in order to help his boss (and consequently himself) keep his new job. Murray also thinks that the victim was murdered and he begins to investigate what really happened. Who-done-it purists will not enjoy THE BRUSH-OFF because the mystery elements seem boring and as bewildering as Murray's first day on the job. However, mystery fans who enjoy reading about Australia's political life and the Melbourne art community will devour this tale because those elements are brilliantly described. The characters are all charming, especially Murray and his cohorts. In his debut novel, Shane Maloney demonstrates lots of talent that will garner him plenty of fans, but he must tighten the focus on the mystery.