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.