Carl is a deadbeat in his late 30s. He works as a cook at a pub; his brutish boss only tolerates him because the pub is required by law to serve food. After Carl's mother has a heart attack, Carl offers to have her stay with him for a couple of weeks, despite his better judgement. While there, Carl's mother badgers him on everything from changing his name, to getting back together with his ex-wife (who she doesn't realise is a lesbian). Carl only bears this because his mother has told him she has left him a large sum of money in her will.
The story alternates between Carl and his best friend, Dave, who has to wrangle his overbearing wife and three children, while putting up with his racist, lazy colleagues at his job as a gravedigger. Despite all of these burdens, Dave is happy, a fact of which Carl is envious.
Meanwhile, Carl has fallen in 'lust' with Sophie, a waitress at the pub, who, despite being only 17 years old, has a past of her own. Carl makes plans to get a better job and rent a nicer house for Sophie and himself, but everything falls apart when there's an incident one night in the pub's kitchen.
Death In Brunswick delves into the seedier side of inner-suburban Melbourne in the 1980s. It has a uniquely Australian voice, and a witty dark humour that appealed to me. Not only that, but I lived in Brunswick for five years, so I know well the street names mentioned in the book. I even went to the cinema that Carl and Sophie went to, before it closed down. Having worked in the public service, I can also picture well the old-school public servants working resentfully under a highly-regulated Government system.
The novel is quite short and ends with only a hint of more in the plot, which leaves the reader to flesh out the ending for themselves. Far from finding this frustrating, I liked it, as it prevented the story from becoming too long and tediously obvious. I would read more by the same author, and I'd also like to see the movie based on the book, which came out in 1990.