By Jock Serong
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On a beach not far from the isolated settlement of Sydney in 1797, a fishing boat picks up three shipwreck survivors, distressed and terribly injured. They have walked hundreds of miles across a landscape whose features and inhabitants they have no way of comprehending. They have lost fourteen companions along the way. Their accounts of the ordeal are evasive.It is Lieutenant Joshua Grayling’s task to investigate the story. He comes to realise that those fourteen deaths were contrived by one calculating mind and, as the full horror of the men’s journey emerges, he begins to wonder whether the ruthless killer poses a danger to his own family.Tweet
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Jock Serong’s novel, Preservation is based round a historical incident in 1797, but is a work of fiction. Seventeen men, a mixture of British merchant seamen set to make their fortune in the infant colony from an illegal rum supply, and their Bengali lascars (sailors, but treated more like slaves) who had joined the journey in Calcutta, set off on a 500 mile trek across Australia from Preservation Island to Sydney. By the time they arrive, only three re found and they are barely alive. What unfolds is their story told partly as a report by William Clarke, a merchant, to the officials in Sydney partly as a diary kept on the trek (but how trustworthy is it?) and partly from the silent thoughts of Figge, a swindler and murderer posing as a tea merchant, and Srinivas a young Bengali boy who sees the whole story unfold, but doesn't speak English...
It has a great sense of Australia in the 18th century and of the behaviour of western/colonial settlers and adventurers on the indigenous people of India and Australia. It's a seamless merging of historical fiction and tightly written crime writing - fast paced and keeps the reader guessing about the main characters right until the end.