Australian acting legend Bryan Brown knows a thing or two about crime. In his long and prolific career (IMBD lists 93 acting credits) he has played a soldier being court-martialled (Breaker Morant – 1980), an iconic Australian private eye (Cliff Hardy in The Empty Beach – 1985), a policeman (Dead Heart – 1996), a criminal (Two Hands – 1999) and more recently an outback soldier (Sweet Country – 2017). So it may not come as a surprise that he has turned his hand to crime fiction in the short story collection Sweet Jimmy, bringing with it a laconic style that many of his performances are known for.
Sweet Jimmy is a collection of 7 short stories, the first (Boys will be Killers) and the last (Sweet Jimmy) are connected. Those two stories revolve around three young men who start small and become criminals. But the real story across both of these tales is one of long held grudges and revenge. And revenge is really the engine that drives all of the stories in this collection – whether it is personal such as in A Time to Do where a swimming coach tries to find out who framed him for drug importation, or societal in Vigilante in which a former policeman puts his talents to making life harder for local criminals.
The problem with this collection is that all of the stories feel and sound the same. Brown’s style is consistently one of short sentences, almost dot point style, a kind of James Elroy-lite. Most of the characters are defined by their ethnicity or religion and suburbs or locations are given a similar brief sketch. The stories themselves then are all plot, many of them packed with characters, and the staccato, pared back style makes them feel like the summary of a story rather than a full blown narrative. Leading to a feeling that all of the stories are similar variations on the themes of grief and revenge. The only slight outlier in the collection is the Deliverance-style survival story Nightmare which takes some time to get going (at least a third of the story is an American travelogue) but builds to its own vengeful conclusion.
Bryan Brown clearly has a wealth of stories to tell. This collection is full of likeable and not so likeable criminals, dedicated and corrupt police and deserving and innocent victims. But this collection is more a precis of those stories than the stories themselves. Some of these would potentially come to life if narrated or performed but there is not enough substance to most of them as written to otherwise jump off the page.