Three Degrees of Separation

A letter to Australian Novelist Anne Buist

Dear Anne,

Out of the blue and unannounced, your latest crime novel, The Long Shadow, appeared on my front doorstep one cold morning. 

Puzzled, I unwrapped the publisher’s plain brown wrapper. Had I now totally lost track of what I had ordered on the internet? Perhaps something ordered so many months ago that the memory had slipped irretrievably. The effect of lockdown softened mental cogs. 

But I did remember having met you at Suzanne’s WriteOn Festival weekend here in Canberra last April. But put off this year, of course (till October). I didn’t think this latest book of yours was even mentioned as on the horizon then. I was almost certain I hadn’t pre-ordered any book of yours at the time, or had I?

I free associated some more, and recalled that as a young hospital doctor working in Melbourne, I had heard of your pioneering work in the treatment of mothers with Post Natal Psychosis. 

And then I double-checked the family papers, based on your surname, and, yes, it does appear that you are a second cousin of my late husband (a Hibbins).

I just love that about Australia. No one of our 26 odd million is truly a stranger. Not so much six degress of separation here, more like three. Perhaps that is why we have hung together and COVID has struck down only one of us (per thousands of population) for every hundred sad interrments in that country South of Canada. Where they speak the same language as us, but use it differently.

Then finally my memory spat out another association. Your book is a crime novel and a few weeks ago I had renewed my membership of Sisters-in-crime. And ticked the ‘willing to do book reviews’ box. Ah, that must be it!

Fortunately I enjoyed your book 🙂  I hate giving a negative review to a book by ‘one of us’ … so sometimes in the past local author books have been read, found wanting, and then no review submitted. It’s the meekest way out of the division in my bosum. Loyalty to the Australian Crime and Mystery writing sorority tugging my heart to one side, and loyalty to the greater group, the Crime readers, tugging the other way.

It is so crucial to our existence as a people that we have our own stories, in our own accent, filled with our own places. Your book shows us a couple of white collar Melbourne interlopers in an NSW outback town. It holds up a sometimes unflattering mirror in which we can see ourselves. The town, though streaked with racial and class differences, nevertheless has its own identity through drought, flood and rumour, and the people can pull together, given half a chance. 

Thank you for the words you weave, adding new strands to the bonds which hold us together.

All the best,

Melissa Robbie

Melissa Robbie Swept from her Melbourne home age 5,  to USA, then PNG, she trailed her mathematician father. Landing back in Adelaide, she started medical school at 15. Doing autopsies to improve her anatomy lead to a Pathology career. Now the widowed mother of adventurous teens, she prefers to travel through books.