Freya is a nurse who humbly dreams of doing good, while clutching a battered copy of Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing. After a tragedy derails her plans and she stumbles across a job ad that reads: ‘Light duties. Large pay. No questions asked’, she is quick to jump on it. However, it’s not long before the ghosts and absurdities of the Vincetti mansion make themselves known and she is drawn into a family saga like no other.
This is a novel that has it all, from murder plots and comas to billionaires and backstabbing. Local author, J.M. Donellan’s second (adult) book is feisty, surreal and filled with humour.
Brisbane references abound, and the city shines under a spotlight it’s not really used to. Our Marilyn Munroe look-alike appears unexpectedly from time to time, and backdrops of the Pancake Manor, Aria and Cloudland firmly and lovingly set the scene. This makes the thought of the billionaire, mafia-like family lurking out of sight somewhere along the river all the more darkly appealing. Donellan could be described as an edgy Nick Earls – with such Brisbane saturation, it’s hard not to compare the city’s other famous offering – as the dialogue is similarly caustic, though with a darker tone.
Running alongside the black comedy is a satire on wealth and capitalism that places emphasis on the power corporations wield, and the threat we face in entrusting single entities with god-like authority. The Vincettis glide about the city, throwing commands and overriding any decisions contrary to their own. Even governments can’t stand in their way and with this, links to Aussie moguls are clear.
Donellan has perhaps attempted too much in terms of narrative threads and could have instead focused on producing a few strong plot lines. As it is, there are times when the many sub-plots threaten to overwhelm. In some ways though, this adds to the theatricality, with the reader given a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure style agency in the story’s outcome.
Killing Adonis is filled with little gems. There’s Freya’s eccentrically camp best friend, her obscure medical condition, violent pineapple cutter incidents and many more. For me, the best thing though is its heroine. Freya is vulnerable, yet gutsy and unreserved, and is exactly the type of character I want to read more of. If you’re looking for something to entertain and perplex in equal measures, while delighting you with its unabashed weirdness, then this is the book.
Words by Jessie Kinivan