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Amaze Your Friends by Peter Doyle
From the Dustjacket
It's Sydney, 1959 and Billy Glasheen, lurk merchant and lowlife, can't take a trick.
The past has caught up with him in the form of Fred Slaney, Sydney's meanest, crookedest cop, who wants ten thousand pounds to keep the peace.
Billy is given a simple choice: pay up in six months or take an early retirement, six feet down, looking at the sky.
But making fast money can be slow work, and it's not just Slaney who's on his back. Billy grows increasingly desperate. Should he run? Should he hide? Or sneak down to Chinatown for another pipe?
Publisher : Random House Australia
First published : 1998
ISBN : 0091836565
No. Pages : 250 pages
Amaze Your Friends is a dark hardboiled crime story that will take a man and subject him to all manner of adversity. It's set in Sydney as the 1950s are drawing to a close, following the attempts of a small-time hustler to come up with some money as quickly as possible. It's a wild and unpredictable ride through the low-life haunts of the city's drug-dens, dealing with corrupt cops while trying to maintain a string of dodgy mail-order scams.
The year is 1959 and it doesn't look as though it's going to be a particularly easy one for Billy Glasheen. Glasheen is a small time hustler living in Sydney who's willing to give just about any shady deal a go as long as there is a bob or two in it. It doesn't matter whether he's selling a few joints or knocking over an RSL club, he's prepared to throw his kick in for the ride.
But when you spread yourself so far and wide, eventually something's going to catch up with you and Glasheen's about to find that his exploits that were so colourfully documented in Peter Doyle's first book, Get Rich Quick are about to come back and bite him big time.
Billy Glasheen was involved in the murder of Detective Ray Weaver, the crookedest of bent cops, although as e keeps stressing, he wasn't the one who actually killed him. Involved was a sizable amount of cash that Weaver was attempting to extort at the time, half of which went to Glasheen. Now the word is out about Billy's involvement and the heat is being applied, making his life a living hell.
As it turns out, Warner isn't the only bent New South Wales cop and Sergeant Fred Slaney, who was due half of Warner's cut (a sum of 10,000 pounds) wants his share and decided Billy Glasheen, suspected cop killer, is going to give it to him. Although he has the capability to get a scam or two up and running thanks to a couple of mail-order business ideas from his Uncle Dick, the return is nowhere near the 10,000 and Billy has to start coming up with more imaginative ways of raising the dough.
But it gets more complicated when a couple of young cops start nosing around, looking to make their mark as well as a few easy quid. They make their point to Glasheen that Slaney is on his way out and, if he knows what's good for him, he had better become their new best friend. It's only when he tells the newcomers what they can do with their offer that his life really takes a turn for the worse and raising 10 grand becomes one of his minor concerns.
The story shrieks along at a furious pace thanks to the tight deadline with which Billy has to work. His ability to juggle money raising ventures coupled with his ability to spend it almost as quickly at the pub or the track ensures that there is always something interesting happening without ever getting the feeling that any solid progress is being made.
Beginning with an assured, easygoing tone, you tend to get lured at the start into thinking that the story you're in for is a light-hearted romp through the fringes of Sydney's underworld. But as things start to go downhill for Billy, it becomes apparent that we are witnessing the descent towards rock bottom and the nature of the story changes accordingly. With few possessions, a dwindling number of friends and little hope ahead of him, the roller coaster of emotions and fortune is an abrupt and bumpy ride.
A nice touch throughout the book is Doyle's sprinkling of a few real-life notables from the time just to add a bit of flair to his 1950s feel. In his exploits, Billy crosses paths with Jack Davey, Johnny O'Keefe and an erstwhile young man named Paul Keating who is eager to get into the music business as a manager. Rather than trumpeting the introduction of each of these notables he keeps their involvement nicely understated, almost as a sly wink to the reader.
As mentioned earlier this is a hardboiled crime story and it's written very much in the style of the pulp novels of the 1950s. At times it's crude and at others it's graphic, but it's most definitely an entertaining read.
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