by Michael Botur
I was not aware of this author before agreeing to review Crimechurch. Apparently he has achieved quite a bit in his 37 years – the preparatory pages of the book work hard, too hard, to convince the reader of his literary credentials. I don’t read them. I don’t want to be told what to think – a book should stand on its own.
So, straight into the story this novel tells.
The language and the references are contemporary and set the scene for a section of society that few want to believe exists, in Christchurch or anywhere in this country.
Crimechurch, as the title suggests, is about the underside, criminal element of Christchurch society. Not limited to one culture, the characters involved are South African, Chinese/Samoan/Tongan, Maori – varied ethnic groups and mixtures.
Each of the main characters tells his or her story separately, in first person narration, though all are connected.
Marty, 15, intelligent, more privileged than some, is aware he has not made a dent in the world and wants to make the world more aware of him. He’s hungry for something real gritty, something spicy and dangerous. He’s not alone in this.
Jade has been broken by a harsh and judgemental upbringing that leads him to see himself as an agent of retribution.
Mona, tells the female counterpart of such young lives. “Court honestly sux – and I’m going to change it. God, if you’re listening: that’s a promise.”
Chong, a very hard-liner, is on probation in the care of a Mormon agency. “if I have to pretend to be some kinda Jesus freak to get probation off my back, shit, sign me up.” But not before he tests it to the extreme – “I’ll have to let them know: I’m a new breed.”
Winston, acts the good son to gain credit while rebelling against his parents’ upper-middle class way of life. He want to do something big – bigger than his brother, bigger than his parents, “bigger than this whole tight-arse city.”
Mama Ta’a, the “absolute gold” corrections worker for young offenders, is praised for reducing crime in the city, though she is unable to reform her own son.
Selling weed fudge is at the very bottom of the scale of offences these young dissidents commit. Drug-dealing, alcohol abuse and the details of personal and gang-violence are not only hard to read about, but enough to shake the stability of the very city. “We’ve made God mad. We’ve bumped the pillars. The temple is toppling.”
When the intensity of Christchurch is too much, there are places of escape – Nelson, Thailand, Australia “where Kiwis go to unfuck their lives” – but they are temporary, the city always calls them back. “This city, man. This island. This country. Like an Alcatraz planted out in the middle of the god damn Southern Ocean. There’s nowhere to go.”
Reading Crimechurch is challenging because of the subject matter, especially so for women, and the sense of hopelessness it invokes. The vocabulary also confronts, but it is always vibrant. It is fittingly colloquial, though more variation between characters would improve the whole.
After the challenges, the last section, Aftermath, is unexpected, though there is an earlier clue that supports the change, and it comes as welcome relief.
This reader’s judgement then – the self-promotion at the beginning of the book is not necessary, Michael Botur proves he can certainly write.
Where there could be much improvement is in the quality of the publication itself. The publishing standard is a step or two below professional. It could be improved by layout with wider margins and better formatting, stronger proofreading and developmental editing. And putting that promotional content, if it must be included, at the back.
However, hats off to this author for showing us a different view of our country. I am sure we will see more writing from him.
Author: Michael Botur
Publisher: Rangitawa Publishing
Available: Amazon.com, RangitawaPublishing.com, NZshortstories.com