Hooper's slim book is in some ways an account of a crime (the death of Cameron Doomadgee while in custody, allegedly at the hands of officer Chris Hurley), in some ways an exploration of the social context in which the crime is situated (intense poverty, alcoholism, endemic violence, and pervasive racism), and in some ways an incisive, cool-eyed, self-reflective indictment of a culture and of the writer herself. As she notes late in the text,
The war between police and Indigenous Australians is a false battleground. The spotlight on Hurley and Doomadgee locked in a death struggle ignored the greater carnage taking place offstage. . . . It seemed to me that concentrating on a white man killing a black man took the nation back to its original sin, as if expurgation of this would stem the rivers of grog and the tides of violence drowning life in these communities. If we could absolve ourselves of this first sin we might be able to pretend that the later ones--the ones now killing a generation--happened in a realm beyond our reach and responsibility.
It is smart, beautifully written, moving--and did I say slim? The economy of the tale is masterful. And the author's judgment doesn't come neatly, or smugly, or quickly--the text enacts a careful observation and attention, trying to untangle the contradictions and complexities. Hooper avoids caricature, avoids the amplification of heroism on the part of the victim or vilification on the part of the aggressor. And she turns the lens on herself, too, noting her own naivete and how it afflicts, alters, blinders her vision at points.