‘At the West End: Temlett Conibeer in West Papua’ by A C T Marke, Frogmouth Press, Low Head, Tasmania, 2014, ISBN 9780646919164, 300 pages. $30, including postage from the author
THIS is the fourth in Andrew Marke’s Temlett Conibeer novels. The central character in all the novels is a sexually repressed and ultra-conservative Englishman with distinct Victorian attitudes.
Temlett Conibeer works in pre-independence Papua New Guinea as a malaria control officer. Among his close friends is an ex-Nazi who was in the SS during World War II.
Critics of the novels range from those who regard them as appallingly bad literature to those who find them inexplicably fascinating. I fall into the latter category, as did the late David Wall to whom this latest volume is dedicated.
One of the major problems with the first three novels lay in trying to work out where Andrew Marke began and Temlett Conibeer finished. This has thankfully become much clearer in Mr Marke’s latest effort.
In fact, with this novel, Andrew Marke has considerably matured as a writer. This is not to say that there is anything technically wrong with the earlier works. They are all competently written.
Rather, it means that the author has finally come to grips with the craft of writing. The previous works were written by a wordsmith, this one is written by a novelist.
This is most obvious in the construction of the narrative. In the earlier novels the plots tend to meander and are littered with annoying and largely irrelevant tangents. This one clips along in a logical and entertaining way without any major distractions.
Gone too is the author’s tendency to preach. He lapses here and there but nowhere near as much as he did in earlier works. Preaching is a trap that many aspiring writers fall into. There are more subtle ways to get your message across.
In this case, Andrew Marke’s central message revolves around the tragedy of West Papua and the world’s cowardice in condoning what is effectively the political genocide of a people.
It is 1965 and Temlett is due for leave. He is offered a job by a scrap metal dealer to suss out the possibilities of salvaging World War II debris in West Papua. Temlett cancels his ticket to England and, accompanied by his SS friend, Eric Mueller, illegally crosses the border at Wutung.
He is befriended by OPM sympathisers who lead him to the capital, then called Sukarnapura (Hollandia/Jayapura). As the plot thickens Temlett and his friend become involved with a Nazi fugitive who has the handwritten diary of Hitler’s consort, Eva Braun, for sale.
Suffice to say there are the usual convoluted Temlett complications with the fairer sex. A mysterious American who helps Temlett when he lands in gaol turns out to be a surprising take on an enduring mystery.
And so it goes.
The novel is a fitting tribute to David Wall. He would have enjoyed it immensely. For my part, I’m still intrigued enough to wonder what Temlett will get up to next.