Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

A review by Nalini Haynes

Kelpie is a homeless malnourished girl of indeterminate age inhabiting Razorhurst, a notorious area in Sydney, in 1932. Kelpie can see ghosts.

Tommy haunts a particular lane in Razorhurst. He knows Kelpie is starving so he entices her to enter a boarding house whose inhabitants are renown for violence. Tommy promises Kelpie apples in the kitchen but the room to which Tommy directs Kelpie is not the kitchen.

Kelpie discovers a Dexter-esque scene: blood splattered everywhere, a lacerated corpse lying on the bed while an immaculately dressed woman, Dymphna, helplessly looks on.

Pounding on the door frightens Kelpie and Dymphna who flee the scene, taking refuge in Neal Darcy’s backyard. The sleepless Neal is smoking in the early hours of the morning, taking a break from writing.

After a brief respite, Dymphna takes charge of Kelpie, determined to care for her because they have more in common than Kelpie realizes. They have more in common than Dymphna realises, a fact that disturbs Dymphna greatly in the hours to come.

Razorhurst is a snapshot, 24 hours in the life of mobsters in a colorful era of Sydney’s history. At her book launch, Justine Larbalestier shared her inspirations for Razorhurst, including a book of photographs dating from this period. Justine even works out at a gym where current standover men train, lending her opportunities to see the aura surrounding these men like a forcefield repelling advances. With such thorough research, Razorhurst has an extraordinary authenticity.

Interstitial chapters interweave backstory, developing this world for those who, like me, are completely ignorant of the historical setting. These chapters enrich the story, their brevity not slowing the plot. Early in Razorhurst, key characters have dreams and goals while fear and the unknown threaten to derail their purpose.

Homelessness, violence, morality – what makes you good or bad – are features of this 24-hour tale, which is far superior to the 24 of television. Engaging characters walk into the lion’s den while I hold my breath, anticipating ghosts bearing witness or cold dead-eyed killers extracting razors. Allen & Unwin (the publisher) bill Razorhurst for ages 14 – 18. While I think it’s an excellent read for that age-group, especially for ‘at risk’ kids, I highly recommend Razorhurst for adults, even those who don’t usually read YA (young adult books).

ISBN: 9781743319437
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pages: 384
Rating: ★★★★★ 5 out of 5 stars