The Second Son
By Loraine Peck
Ivan is murdered in his driveway as he rolls the heavy green rubbish bin to the curb for pick up. The cowardly dawn shooting gives Ivan's father, Milan, a whole new reason to hate his ethnic rivals in Sydney. Milan is Croatian, and his family's conflict with Serbian organised crime stretches back to the implosion of Yugoslavia and the resulting civil war. With so many reasons to despise the Serbs, Milan tells every gangster in his employ that there will be no mercy, surrender or compassion shown to his rivals. Milan's second son, Johnny, must avenge his brother's death with blood. However, Johnny is as clever as he is violent, and he will not bury his brother's memory until he knows exactly which gang ordered the killing. Why would the Serbs sneak up behind Ivan and kill him in such an underhanded way? Why would they kill him at all while everyone is enjoying such tentative and lucrative peace? Johnny will kill the man who cut down his best mate, but not without more information. Luckily for us readers, that means a long, exciting narrative with a wicked twist.
The Second Son is immensely clever in its portrayal of generational aggression. The Serbian and Croatian conflict is very much alive in the world, and every town in Australia is proud to host communities of ex-pats that once resided in Yugoslavia. I live in Carnarvon (10 hours north of Perth, Western Australia), and we have a Dalmacija (pronounced Dal-may-sia by Aussies) club for the families of Croatia who settled here to avoid the European war. It's wonderful to see a new-release novel presenting the angst and suppressed tension of a group of people who are so essential to modern Australia. The Second Son uses the overt savagery of gang violence to frame the tension that stretches back long before The Third Balkan War and even the world wars. Johnny must kill the Serbs because Milan orders it, as Milan was ordered by his father.
Not only is this novel laced with history and chunks of culture, but the portrayal of organised crime is fresh. These relatively recent arrivals to Australia carved out a section of territory in Sydney and diversified their criminal enterprise to fit the modern world. This is not a stale, ancient organisation but one that was created to adapt to the twenty-first century. The Second Son is enthralling, dramatic and savage. And it won Lorraine Peck the 2021 Best Debut Novel Award at The Ned Kelly Awards (Australia's top crime writing honours).
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