I tend to judge a book by its first page, so it's only fair that you get to judge me on some of mine
Love and Death in Kathmandu by Amy Willesee and Mark Whittaker
In the Nepalese hill village of Dolakha, a tolling bell calls frightened townsfolk to their famous temple. An old man with high checkbones and a white, whiskery goatee joins the crowd pressing through the ancient, narrow streets.
As he reaches the temple, one of Nepal's holiest for 550 years, he finds villagers bowing and praying with a quiet desperation. The god, a black, wedge-shaped rock, is sweating again. The old man wonders what upheaval awaits his poor country this time.
When Domber Bahadur Shrestha was a boy, the village elders told him that when the idol sweated, something bad always happened. It sweated, they recalled, shortly before the 1934 earthquake that killed 8519 people. No one had bothered writing such things down, though, and so the curious child, lucky to be literate in a country where few were, decided he would become the record keeper of these bouts of perspiration.
The boy grew to be a schoolteacher and public servant. During his lifetime, the idol has sweated eight times - and eight times disaster has followed. From catastrophic landslides to the fall of dictatorships and the death of kings, it has foreseen them all.
The temple priest takes a swab from the sweating idol and sends it to the royal plaace, eighty kilometres away in the nation’s capital, Kathmandu. The king must always be informed when the idol sweats. His Majesty will send a sacrificial he-goat and an emissary to perform the correct puja (ritual worship). But they are slow in coming.
Brave by Mark Whittaker
All is quiet as childcare worker Amanda Ziminerman tiptoes the darkened play room, through scattered mattresses and snoring bodies on their 1 pm nap. Santa is coming later this afternoon, so the prospect of cake and a concert for the parents had made her two- and three-year-olds - the Possums - a little harder than usual to get down. Sophie Delezio, a determined little thing, had been the last to go, about ten minutes earlier.
Without warning, there is an explosion of glass. Amanda swings around to see a car crashing through the change room wall. The car is airborne, flying at her head. In that frozen moment as she faces death square in the radiator grille, she wonders how her partner will pay the mortgage without her.
She takes a reflex step back, and watches the driver's face gliding by in the descending white Commodore which misses her by the length of her forearm. The back wheels clip the top of a waist-high room divider made of wood and fabric. The car crashes to the floor and slams into sliding glass doors at the back of the room. Somehow, the reinforced glass and wire mesh hold, and the car stops.
Amanda can see it has flown over most of the children, but she knows it has come to rest on top of where at least one of them had been sleeping, and others had been all around. Worse, the driver's foot appears to be stuck hard on the accelerator. The back wheels are spinning, screeching, burning rubber.
Bomber: From Vietnam to Hell and Back
By Tony Bower-Miles and Mark Whittaker
Tony Bower-Miles, ‘Bomber’, is telling the story of the first time he ever tasted chilli.
It was 1969, Vietnam. He was out on patrol, walking on a bridge over the runoff from a rice paddy, when along in the other direction came a South Vietnamese soldier wearing a vest chock full of hand grenades.
'Here, I'll have some of those,' I said to him. I grabbed two grenades, pulled the pins and tossed them in the stream. All these ARVN (Army of the Republic of South Vietnam) soldiers came rushing out of their post at the end of the weir thinking they were under attack. They came out and saw the fish floating to the surface and promptly dived in and started collecting 'em, They cooked up a little feast. There were prawns in the shell, catfish in rice paper with chilli. It was brilliant.
He's sitting under a tarpaulin in the soggy heat of a Cambodian wet season. Suddenly his mobile rings. It is clear he's talking to someone he doesn't know bearing good news. He lets slip a 'fucken oath!' then catches himself. 'Sorry. Yes, I can be there.'
He gets off the phone and turns to his old Vietnam comrade and fellow Tunnel Rat Gerry Lyall. ‘Another fucking one. I've been nominated for Australian of the Year.’
Sins of the Brother by Mark Whittaker & Les Kennedy
It should be a solemn family occasion. Margaret Milat is in a pretty bad way in hospital with a crook heart, shot hips, a hernia, and Lord knows what other complications a woman gets after bearing fourteen children. There is a chance she might not make it. Most of her brood are coming all the way to the city to see her. Except Mick, of course, being in jail for those armed robberies he and Ivan did. And Margaret who died in a car accident three years ago.
There is no reason, though, why Ivan can't get there, even if he is on the run. He's been hiding from the cops for two and a half years now, since October '71, but he isn't hard to find. So long as you call him by one of his aliases, Bill, Bill Harris to be sure, or Joe Spanner, there are no dramas. He's pretty certain the police have lost interest in him, and he feels safe enough to visit family most weekends. He doesn't know that he is a possible suspect in a murder six months old that police are now investigating.
Ivan's brother Wally and Wally's wife Maureen get word to Ivan that Mum is crook and they are going to visit her in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
'I'll come with you, if that's okay,' he volunteers. 'I'll take yas in the new car.' He has traded in the maroon Holden for a brand new, lime green 1974 Charger, VJ, despite his flatmate's '72 Charger being a dog.
Ivan seems pretty relaxed when he picks up his brother and sister-in-law at their Moorebank home. It's obvious he's looking after himself. His muscles cut sharper than ever through the T-shirt. He's with-it. Hair cut in a Prince Valiant almost down to the shoulders, supported by thick sideburns. The new car suits the image. If it worries him that he is free while Mick is doing time for those robberies, it doesn't show.
The tension that had earlier veiled the relationship between Ivan and Wally is no longer evident as they drive the 27 kilometres to the hospital at Camperdown, in Sydney's inner-west. Maureen's affair with Ivan is well behind them all now. Maureen got back with Wally again right after Ivan jumped bail and bolted for New Zealand. She was pregnant straightaway and married to Wally and soon Rob, a beautiful dark-haired boy, was born. Rob, almost two, is in the cramped back seat of the two-door Charger with her now. Wally’s unfounded suspicions about his fatherhood have apparently gone.