The premise of an 11-year-old boy's comic book-inspired adventures in 1950s Melbourne sounds like the basis of a nostalgic holiday read. Don't be mistaken. The Cartographer cruelly plunges its narrator deep into the city's criminal underbelly, until his interpretation of events seems closer to delusions than daydreams.
Only a year after his twin brother's death, the young protagonist is witness to a violent murder. Frightened, he uses his dangerous role models and distraught memories to create a map that will help him stay safe when exploring the city. Sadly, this fails when the boy is guided into the world of petty crime and beyond by his shady grandfather.
Many of Melbourne's landmarks are crucially sown into the plot as well, so it is particularly fun for readers who know the area. Twohig remaps the suburbs within and around Richmond with a child-like upgrade - Wonder Woman lives on Chapel Street, secret hideouts are just off Swan Street, zombie invasions threatening to start by Alexandra Avenue and underground passage ways weaving in-between.
The novel impulsively jumps between humour, sentiment, violence and emotional distress that would give Regan MacNeil fresh scars. The result is that the story constantly morphs between genres, giving it a broad appeal, but maintains enough subtle referencing to deserve a special appreciation from those who share the writer's nostalgia.
Fourth Estate, RRP $29.95