Review: The Betrayal

I can imagine YA Erskine’s second novel The Betrayal becoming one for the water cooler.

It has the potential to polarise readers, some seeing the betrayal of the title as one cop’s betrayal of her colleagues by bringing rape charges against one of their own, others seeing the system betraying the young female complainant who dares take this course of action.

If the success of a novel is measured in terms of it’s capacity to generate debate and discussion, then The Betrayal is set to be a winner.

The Betrayal is YA Erskine’s second novel. The plot centres on what happens when naive young constable Lucy Howard decides to press charges after being drugged and raped by a colleague. And not just any colleague. Constable Nick Greaves is a ‘Soggy’, part of the elite Special Operations Group, aka ‘Sons Of God’.

A second plot-line involves high-level corruption and charts the undoing of the Police Commissioner, a case with the potential to shift attention — for better or worse — from Lucy’s rape case.

Like her debut The Brotherhood, The Betrayal is told from a roving point of view, each chapter named for the narrator: The Complainant, The Detective Sergeant, The Commissioner, etc. For me this structure worked more successfully in The Brotherhood than The Betrayal: I needed to see more of Lucy’s character development to be convinced by her transformation from insecure, apologetic, frankly annoying victim of the opening chapter to the self-assured woman of the epilogue.

That said, the descriptions of the rape from the perpetrator’s point of view (The Soggy) and its aftermath from the victim’s (The Complainant) are gripping, and there is a riveting account of a swingers’ party told through the eyes of The Detective Sergeant. The Commissioner is convincingly loathsome and corrupt and as a rule, Erskine writes men, notably bastards, with the adroitness of one who knows her subject well. Perhaps too well.

Erskine is a former detective constable with the Tasmanian Police. And she has gone on the record about the true events in her own life that inspired The Betrayal. I don’t doubt the accuracy of her portrayals. But as with The Brotherhood, I had a problem with the unrelenting cynicism, misogyny, racism and homophobia of the characters. Unlike The Slap which employs a similar narrative device, there is not much in the way of nuance nor alternative points of view.

Maybe Erskine didn’t encounter many alternatives during her time in the police force, but for me it would strengthen her fiction if she made some up.

None of this detracts from the fact that The Betrayal is a thrilling, compulsive read. I could not put down.

I hope the issues it raises get an airing, not only around the nation’s water coolers, but in the institutions of justice that can make it so hard to see justice done. I was stunned to learn at a recent talk by crime novelist Peter James that globally the homicide clearance rate is 93%. The rape clearance rate is 2%.

The Betrayal by YA Erskine is published by Bantam, released May 2012.

Listen to my review on Radio National Books & Arts Daily here.

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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3 Responses to Review: The Betrayal

  1. kathy d. says:

    I was thrilled to hear your analysis of The Betrayal and In Her Blood, linked from Fair Dinkum Crime website. And I felt somewhat validated in that I, too, wished for an alternative point of view in The Brotherhood. As you say above, “as with The Brotherhood, I had a problem with the unrelenting cynicism, misogyny, racism and homophobia of the characters.” (Also, I’d add anti-poor bigotry to the mix.) I didn’t know what the author’s point of view was here. Does she agree with the bigotry? Or she just exposing it all to the readers in a “Show, not Tell” style, so we come to our own conclusions?. I got tired of the unrelenting negativism and backward attitudes. Perhaps the writer is just saying this is how the police force is, this is reality.
    But I needed a decent character in the mix who stands up to this stuff or who at least thinks in an alternative morality with scruples.
    Your radio segment helped me to think more about The Brotherhood. But I wonder what the author intended. I’d still like to know.
    I would like to read The Betrayal now that I’ve heard you and read this post. And I definitely want to read In Her Blood.


    • angelasavage says:

      Thanks for your comments, Kathy. It’s a relief to know someone shared my discomfort about The Brotherhood and for all that I felt the same way about The Betrayal, I still recommend it as a compelling read.
      Yvette Erskine and I are scheduled to appear together at a writers event in Portarlington at the end of this month and I will take the opportunity to ask her the questions we share about her motivation for painting such a bleak picture of the Tasmania police force and the socio-political system that spawned it.
      In Her Blood, by contrast, maintains a spark of redemption within a bleak, noir-ish tale.


  2. kathy d. says:

    I would love to hear what Yvette Erskine has to say about the unrelenting negativism and bigotries in her books, displayed by the Tasmanian police, what her intentions were, what she wanted readers to come away with, to learn, to think.
    I’ll check in at your website to see what you report back.
    I definitely want to read In Her Blood and also The Betrayal, as the issue in the latter book is a huge one. I read an interview with the writer where she says that she saw her attacker in public somewhat after the incident and went into a huge panic attack.
    Anyway, I’ll check in.


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