Saturday 8 February 2014

Hot Rock Dreaming (A Johnny Ravine Mystery, Book 2) by Martin Roth

An old-fashioned murder mystery with a private detective and a beautiful femme fatale, set in an exotic location - the Australian outback - with potent under-currents of spiritual warfare.

Australia's most famous Aboriginal painter is dead, supposedly killed when a heavy object tumbled onto him in his studio during an earth tremor. But then doubts arise. For a start, the police now suspect murder. And how come the victim had been heard earlier predicting his own violent death? 

Enter private detective Johnny Ravine to solve the mystery, and suddenly he finds himself thrust into a byzantine world of art and artists where questions are far more numerous than answers. 

Where did the victim's art dealer obtain the incredibly rare artwork that he was secretly selling? Is the controversial green energy company Rokpower really going to harness power from hot rocks deep under the ground, and did it kill the artist's Dreaming spirit when it injected water onto the rocks? And who is the beautiful and mysterious Asian lady who seems to be able to converse with the dead, and who says she knows how the artist really died?

A killer is on the loose and even Johnny's own life is in danger. But first he needs to understand that the death of the artist has unleashed spiritual 
forces that threaten an entire community.


I remember reading the following when I first read the description on Amazon a few years ago: 

"Hot Rock Dreaming was one of seven finalists - and the only novel - for the 2011 Australian Christian Book of the Year award, chosen from sixty-seven 

The judges wrote:

"Hired to investigate the death of an Aboriginal painter, private detective Johnny Ravine is drawn into a complex mystery as dangerous as it is intriguing. Environmental politics, land rights and Aboriginal spirituality are explored with subtlety. For the hero and reader alike there is a valuable lesson to be learned about the importance of discerning which voice is proclaiming life and love when all is not as it seems. A compelling novel." 

After reading this novel, I can see why it became a finalist and totally agree
with the judges findings. 

If the reader of this novel does not know anything about Aboriginal spirituality, they definitely will after reading this. Roth has embedded this
seamlessly in the plot and in portraying the religious and cultural life of the
Aboriginals of the Australian Outback.

I knew a little about their spirituality from growing up here in Australia but was definitely given an in depth education and appreciation in this novel. Roth has shown great respect for Australia's original residents, and it is this that enhances the entire novel. Once I had finished I came to the conclusion that it is a great injustice to the Aborigines and all Australians born and educated in this country that we do not have the history of this fascinating and very spiritual people in our history curriculum in our education system. Instead, we insist that we learn about other countries cultures and history only. I think we have it wrong to not include as well Aboriginal history.

Even from a spiritual point of view, Roth has portrayed their beliefs very realistically  even though I say this from the little I know of them. The incident of pointing the bone and its associated curse leading to death I have read and seen portrayed in movies and in a TV series in my adolescence. Roth includes a biblical solution to this situation when this has been placed on Johnny, and it is a very descriptive and enthralling account.

I would consider the spirituality of the Aboriginal people as one that governs their thinking, behaviour, culture, and one that has a great connection and respect to and of the land. Roth portrays and shows this in the plot concerning the green power company Rokpower who has shown that when water is pumped through the earth onto the hot rocks beneath the resulting steam can be harnassed as a renewable power source, but in aboriginal spirituality, this act has released Kurtal, the rain spirit, of whom Albert Wallaby Walker, Australia's most famous painter is believed to be a descendant. So strong is this belief and connection to the land, that Mi Young Cho, the femme fatale,
described in the book description, describes it almost as spiritual folk lore,

".. Kurtal is a rain spirit. He can make rain. He traveled through the desert in the form of a serpent.... he looked for a warm place to live. So he went deep under the ground where all the hot rocks are. Old Albert told me that his ancestors have always known about those hot rocks. For thousands of years. And he told me that pouring water onto the rocks would force Kurtal to escape. And (this) would kill him.... (Albert) always knew he was going to die. He told people he faced a violent death, from the water being poured onto Kurtal" and later, "...once Kurtal was forced from his home he would pour out 
his fury...torrents of rain after his (Albert's) death...".

There are many more examples to illustrate this, but that would make this review very long. I pray future readers identify these for their own edification. It is well worth it and also to see how rich in their spirituality Roth has depicted the aboriginal people.

The other main spiritual heritage that forms a significant part of this murder mystery is the technique the Aboriginal artists use to paint, their subject matter being the stories of their past, the meaning behind it, their symbolism and how this preserves this heritage for all time. Again, this is one main tenet of Aboriginal spirituality that also ties them to their land. This can be seen evidenced by Albert's son Eddie who added the words, "This Is Not Art" on all his paintings as he believed they did not belong in galleries or on walls but should be returned to their Dreaming sites and at the end of the novel, we find Johnny had discovered that the paintings of the Papunya Boards were set into the sandy ground where the Rokpower drilling site is situated over the Dreaming site of the rain spirit, Kurtal.

Speaking of the Papunya Boards, not only were these the stolen paintings that led to the death of Albert, but they had a very significant spiritual history. Pastor Ron gives Johnny a mini history lesson and it's message is one very powerful but tragic piece of Australian history, much to our shame,

"Papunya was a government resettlement place. It was a dump. Secular people would describe it as God forsaken, except that it wasn't. God was at work. He gathered her elders from the main local Aboriginal tribes - Pintubi, Aranda, Anmartira, Luritja, Warlpiri - and then he brought along a young prophet-like schoolteacher named Geoff Bardon. They began painting their stories. They worked in a derelict old military building, the Great Painting Room, and something happened. It wasn't just the men in that room. You know who else was there? ......The Holy Spirit was in there with them. God's spirit. Moving powerfully. There was a fervour in there. Those men couldn't stop painting. Painting all their spiritual stories. Even their spiritual secrets. They painted on boards. If they couldn't find boards they'd rip the ends off fruit boxes.....Some of the older men were Christians. But they didn't paint Christian themes. They painted their traditional stories. Their Dreamings. Why? Because they were reaching out to us, to non-Aboriginal Australia.....They were painting their Old Testament. And they were offering it as a special gift to the rest of us. To non-indigenous Australia....Their Old Testament...Even some of their secrets. And they were saying, "This is what we have. But we know there is something more. Something even more beautiful and powerful than what we have. Please teach it to us. we need it.

But Australian Christianity was already in decline. It had gone from triumphalism to white-man's guilt in one swift step. So no-one noticed. One 
of the great spiritual outpourings in the Australian history - perhaps the greatest - and the church didn't even notice."

This really struck a chord in me, and I was saddened and outraged that this had happened and not recorded in our history books or taught in our school curriculum as I have mentioned above. For those who want to know more, Google Papunya Boards, and you can see some of these paintings for yourself and even one of the characters is real too!! I applaud Martin Roth for thorough research that adds credibility to his writing and novels.

I loved the description of the outback, especially of the town Alice Springs. Roth transports you there, and you can almost feel that you are in the desert environment and one that is very different than that of metropolitan Australia. Roth also describes the different mentality of the people that is unique to this region as expressed through Johnny Ravine being used to metropolitan Melbourne and his tropical home of East Timor. Reading throughout this novel, you can almost feel the dust in your mouth and the searing heat that seems all consuming and debilitating. You can also imagine the vast plains of open desert.

The spiritual warfare theme that runs through this novel is done well through Roth's handling of the aboriginal spirituality outlined above and balancing this with biblical truth. I loved the tenacity of Pastor Ron in his discernment of the spiritual influence on the New Age pastor, Mi Young Cho, on Johnny and how the spirits that control her manifest through her when Ron attends her church. Roth further deals with this theme in dealing with the effect of the curse and spiritual attack on Johnny through the pointing of the bone curse by using prayer and praying in tongues to break this curse and spiritual bondage. Ron also shines in this tenacity in guiding Johnny in the truth of spiritual warfare albeit with firmness and even confronting Johnny concerning the attitude and behaviour of Mi Young Cho towards him. I really enjoyed how Roth dealt with this theme. No deviation from biblical principles here.

On a final note, I loved the message that Roth includes in the Epilogue in relation to the Christian response to aboriginal spirituality and in bringing the Gospel to this highly spiritual people. Again, he uses the Ron's wisdom, experience of living in the Outback with Aboriginals for decades to deliver this. Johnny is describing how all the loose ends are being tied up so to speak and states what Ron believes,

"He says, many Aboriginal people face a spiritual crisis, trying to balance their religion with life in modern, materialistic Australia. He says that Christians must help, because it is especially Christians who understand spirituality. Too often non-Christians treat Aboriginal people as noble savages, or as helpless victims, and their spirituality as something primitive. 

He wishes that Australian Christians would take just a small portion of the time they spend studying the Bible and instead devote it to learning about Aboriginal spirituality. And he says it is a shame that Australian Bible college students spend so much time studying ancient Greek and Hebrew, yet virtually no time learning Aboriginal languages."

For Australian Christians this is a message we need to hear, listen and act on. I applaud Roth for including this. I have learnt a great deal about Aboriginal spirituality and of their culture through reading this novel and now have a greater understanding and appreciation of them.

Based on all this, I thoroughly enjoyed this second instalment in the Johnny Ravine Mystery trilogy.

Highly Recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment. It is awaiting moderation.