Reviews > Published on February 24th, 2014

Bookshots: 'The Roving Party' by Rohan Wilson

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Roving Party

Who Wrote It?

All the elements of a top-notch historical Australian western are there, but they’re buried beneath so much faux literary bluster.

First time Australian novelist Rohan Wilson, winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 2011.

Plot in a Box:

Infamous 19th century bounty hunter John Batman leads a roving party of hired and indentured guns in the capture and slaughter of Tasmanian Aborigines.

Invent a New Title For This Book:

Bonfire of the Atrocities

Read This If You Like:

Heart of Darkness, or the Nick Cave-penned film, The Proposition

Meet the Book’s Lead:

Black Bill, a Vandemonian raised and educated as a white man. A skilled tracker and nasty with a knife, he is Batman’s right hand.

Said Lead Would Be Portrayed in a Movie By:

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, probably best known for playing the stoic Mr. Eko on Lost.

Setting: Would You Want To Live There?

Batman’s roving party hikes across some brutally harsh terrain filled with countless parasites and predators under unforgiving weather, most of them without shoes. Tasmania is definitely not a tourist destination.

What Was Your Favorite Sentence?

Missus, if you shoot some fellow with that little gun and he finds out, by God he will come back and flog you, Bill said and he laughed.

The Verdict:

The Roving Party has an interesting story to tell, about Black Bill’s conflict over hunting and killing his own people in order to feed his pregnant wife, but does everything it can to make reading that story difficult and frustrating. The stubborn refusal to punctuate dialogue properly means that you are frequently confused over who exactly is talking, and going back to figure out which sentences in a paragraph were spoken by the character or the narrator. This is why quotation marks were invented, so why not just use them? I’m talking to you too, Cormac McCarthy. While Wilson has an exacting eye for historical accuracy, most of the book is wasted describing every last rock, tree, leaf and patch of dirt in eye-glazing detail. The scenery to narrative ratio is way off. For every scene of intriguing character development or gut-wrenching travesty you have to wade through many long, meandering passages of repetitive landscape porn that add nothing to the story. All the elements of a top-notch historical Australian western are there, but they’re buried beneath so much faux literary bluster.

About the author

BH Shepherd is a writer and a DJ from Texas. He graduated from Skidmore College in 2005 with degrees in English and Demonology after writing a thesis about Doctor Doom. A hardcore sci-fi geek, noir junkie and comic book prophet, BH Shepherd has spent a lot of time studying things that don’t exist.  He currently resides in Austin, where he is working on The Greatest Novel Ever.

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