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Runner    by Robert Newton order for
by Robert Newton
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In his Author's Note, Robert Newton speaks of 1919 Richmond (aka Struggletown) Australia, the setting of Charlie Feehan's story. Newton informs us that some of the characters in this fictional work are real - 'Squizzy Taylor, the notorious Richmond crime boss, and his lover, Dolly; Henry Stokes, the famous two-up king; and Snowy Cutmore, a Fitzroy criminal and the man who reportedly shot Squizzy dead.' They lived life day to day and hand to mouth, struggling to make the most of measly pickings. The Feehan family is typical of many that lived in the working-class slums of Richmond: 'most importantly, this is Charlie Feehan's story ... his struggle, and his struggle is real.'

Sixteen-year old Charlie's father died from the cold of the slums - where dampness was the enemy, and to be poor was the norm - along with the foul air from Richmond industries. There, street carts of fishos and rabbitos are dumped into the gutters where children play. Charlie wants more for his Ma and baby brother Jack. He quits school without Ma's knowledge and does his running at night as an outlet for his grief and to increase physical stamina. Charlie heads for Darlington Parade to keep an appointment with mobster Squizzy Taylor. Runners are tested with the intact delivery of two eggs from point A to B. Charlie is hired to deliver messages, and Prohibition liquor. The streets at night become Charlie's classroom.

Charlie and Norman Heath become friends and accept assignments together, especially liquor pickups and deliveries which require the heft of a twosome. Charlie is content working for Taylor - he likes the good money and feelings of power: 'True, it was the warmth I sought each night ... the prickle of skin and the sweat on my brow. But soon there was something more. The sleazy streets seduced me, and, like a moth to the flame, I gladly surrendered'. Assigned to collect payments from Taylor's debtors, Charlie begins to have doubts. The bright spot for him is meeting lovely, red-headed Alice Cornwall. He has to collect from her bakery-owner father, but Mr. Cornwall doesn't have the money.

Runner is the first YA publication by noted Australian author Robert Newton in the United States. Readers of all ages will enjoy this story of friendship, neighborly support, family closeness, and the downfalls and uplifts of life. The Aussie brogue - as in Ridgy-Didge and Fair Dinkum - is richly fetching, the action succulent, and the characters intriguing.

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