A Look at Antipodean Pulp
In Holland, he’s referred to as the grootmeester - the grand master. In Australia, he’s Michael who? As a recent feature in The Age highlighted, Michael Robotham is one of those Australian writers who sell much better overseas than they do here. While he usually sells around 50,000 copies of his books in Australia, Robotham says he can expect to sell three or four times that number in Germany alone.
Robotham sets his books mostly in the United Kingdom for commercial reasons. In an essay published today in the Dailies, crime writer and Wheeler Centre Unpublished Manuscript Fellow Andrew Nette shows that Michael Robotham isn’t the first Australian crime writer who’s set his books in other countries to improve sales.
While Australian crime writing flies under the radar, perhaps, of the broader reading public, an Australian writer played a crucial role in establishing the genre. While crime played a central role in Australian literature from the beginning - as you’d expect in a convict colony - it was Fergus Hume’s Mystery of a Hansom Cab that took Australian crime out of the back blocks of the bush and onto the mean streets of the city. It was written and first published in Melbourne at the height of the city’s golden era, before a depression drained it of its confidence and inaugurated the reign of the culture cringe. A generation later, during the Great Depression, Arthur Upfield’s indigenous tracker Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, or ‘Boney’, took the private eye back to the bush and enjoyed great popularity, particularly in the US.
Then, in 1938, the government introduced a levy on foreign print publications, inaugurating a whole new era in Australian crime fiction. This is where Andrew Nette’s look at the PI and Australian pulp fiction begins.