Hard boiled

• Author David Whish-Wilson. Photo by Jenny D’Anger.

SOUTH Fremantle author David Whish-Wilson says his latest book True West is more “crime noir” than detective novel.

“It’s not about a puzzle, but the effect crime has on people.”

The book is set in WA in 1988, when right-wing extremist Jack van Tongeren whipped up race hate that led to violent crime, including the fire bombing of Asian restaurants in Perth.

During Whish-Wilson’s first public talk about True West an elderly lady told him that her Chinese/Australian husband, a taxi driver, had been murdered during that period of unrest.

When the police asked the killer why he did it, he said – “because he’s Asian.”

While True West is loosely based on real events, the extremist leader in the story is more sophisticated than van Tongeren; his henchman are pure brutality.

“I have written a novel that explores that period, a violent time for a lot of people,” Whish-Wilson says.

He says he made a conscious decision not to have the extremists wear Nazi uniforms, swastikas and other right wing symbols.

“To make them more mainstream – which makes them more dangerous.”

Having betrayed the Knights bikie gang, the novel’s protagonist, 17-year-old Lee Southern, flees from Geraldton to Perth.

Employed as a tow truck driver, he’s captured by right-wing extremists who use violence, blackmail and seduction to ensure he works for them.


Lee becomes an unwilling participant in an ambitious plot to unite white Australia against Asians.

Although the novel is set more than 30 years ago, its themes are still relevant today.

“As fiction it’s a vehicle to explore a period of WA history which sadly is becoming more topical,” Whish-Wilson says.

“As I was writing, the Christchurch massacre happened.”

Whish-Wilson says he got plenty of inspiration for the book when he used to teach writing classes at Casuarina Prison.

“I don’t use literal stories from the class but I learnt a lot…about how things work.”

When asked whether the violence and gore in the book came from his imagination, he replied: “I wish it was my imagination.”

True West is published by Fremantle Press and is in bookshops now.

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