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Quota is the first novel by Australian lawyer, editor and features writer, Jock Serong. After a courtroom episode (avidly described in legal circles as Jardim’s “brain snap”) that earns him two nights in the police cells, threatens his career as a barrister and contributes to the end of his engagement to dedicated junior lawyer, Anna Murdoch, Charlie Jardim is feeling tired, apathetic and indifferent to the whole business. But he finds that his old friend, senior barrister Harlan Weir is determined to thwart his exile and sends him to Dauphin, a small town on the Victorian south coast to check out the witness to a murder. Charlie wonders if this brief will change everything and “make the….whole shitty game fall away from the foreground like cardboard theatre sets, revealing something that would expunge the futile ritual of his weeks”. Or will it be his last hurrah? Patrick Lanegan’s statement about his brother’s murder doesn’t quite ring true. Charlie and Harlan are in no doubt that defendants Skip and Mick murdered Matthew Lanegan, given the illegal abalone trade and the drug trade in which they were all involved, but a conviction seems unlikely unless Patrick is more forthcoming. As he weaves a tale that will surprise the reader with some completely unexpected turns, Serong creates interesting and complex characters and treats the reader to some wonderfully evocative descriptive prose, to wit: “…Barry had traded in auto parts and hoarded information, the factual rubbish others would discard to keep their house-proud minds prim like a brick veneer. His was more of a two-bedroom hardiplank surrounded by rusty wreckage…” and “It took a few moments to find Patrick, reduced in the middle distance to a pair of pulsing black fins leaving stabs of silver bubbles, chattering consonants among the blue-green vowels of the reef” also “Here, now, the weather altered the very appearance of the world, by turns stripping and bleaching, shading and saturating the town’s colours. The wind, idle at the moment, was nonetheless integral to the shape of the trees, the mood of the sea. His static surrounds had hidden this reality from him: the world was in a state of incessant upheaval” and “The drivers headlight was gone, leaving a gory smashed eye socket.” Serong’s depiction of a small Victorian town, with his description of the pub and its patrons, the Chinese café, the football game and the local characters, is perfect. Likewise, his courtroom scenes feel authentic, no doubt a product of his personal experience. Against the backdrop of a murder trial, Serong explores family loyalties, truth and justice, and the legal system: “Only through fanatical belief in the system could you devote such care to the construction of an argument but never fall for the hubris of it.” This work of literary crime fiction is a brilliant debut novel and readers will look forward to more from Jock Serong.  

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