I chose to listen to this book mostly because it is an Australian book narrated by an Australian (who is also an actor I like). It is pretty unusual to find Australian books in audio format but to find an Australian story narrated in a genuine Australian voice is a very rare thing indeed.
Big Oakie White is a successful Melbourne bookmaker. When his daughter is kidnapped he doesn’t tell police because another bookmaker’s wife was recently kidnapped and killed when the ransom payment, being handled by police, went wrong. Instead he turns to several mates, including John Punter, to help get his daughter back in one piece. Punter is the son of a trainer, a successful professional gambler and something of a reluctant amateur detective. In addition to the kidnapping he becomes involved in an investigation into a series of unexplained events in one of Melbourne’s racing stables.
Peter Klein has been involved with Australian racing for decades, including as a strapper and trainer, so he has been able to create a very credible world for John Punter and friends. My own father has successfully supplemented his regular income by systematic gambling on horse racing for as long as I can remember so I’ve had a fair bit of exposure to the racing world in one way or another and the characters, small details and even the story threads themselves in Punter’s Turf all felt pretty realistic to me and the incorporation of real life identities such as well-known trainers adds to the authenticity.
As the protagonist Punter is very likable, largely believable and wholly Australian. He does as much work as he needs to get by but takes plenty of time for leisure (specifically surfing and eating pizza), helps his mates without question, has a vague disregard for authorities and has a soft side that is displayed a unwillingly but inevitably. He’s also intelligent, though he does make a couple of stupid mistakes of the kind plot advancement demands, and I rather enjoyed meeting him. There are a plethora of minor and colourful characters, surrounding Punter though none of them are terribly well fleshed out. The females in particular are a little light on the development front.
The plot speeds along for the most part (there were a couple of points at which I thought there was a bit to much detail provided on some esoteric aspect of racing) and there are lots of threads to keep readers’ interest. There is some level of predictability with these though there were plenty of surprises to keep me entertained. Although the book has an overall light tone there are points at which it becomes quite poignant and Klein displays a lot of skill in depicting emotional situations, for example when someone is revealed to be deliberately stopping a particular trainer’s horses from winning. This really was quite a gripping part of the story which made me feel sympathy and anger towards the culprit. The resolution of the main thread too is darker than I expected, though people’s actions were in keeping with the way they’d been portrayed which is all I can ever ask.
What about the audio book?
David Tredinnick (Aussies might remember him as Simon in The Secret Life of Us) does a great job of the narration, giving full voice to an array of typical and very suitable Australian accents and also manages to portray just the right note of wry humour for much of the tale which is entirely appropriate. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the story told in voices that are representative of the real-life people the characters must have been based on.
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My rating 3.5/5
Narrator David Tredinnick; Publisher Bolinda Publishing ; Length 10hours 58minutes
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