Last Journey is the first adult novel by Sydney author R. D. Morrison. A courageous book, it tackles some of the hard issues about life in Sydney, Australia. But its themes are universal and timely as we enter a new millennium in which we will hopefully be energised by a sense of greater social responsibility.
Retired Sydney doctor Gabriel McLeish is a charismatic man on a mission. Better known as "The Archangel" to his elderly friends, he helps them set up a refuge for homeless children in the harbour suburb of Manly. "The Pilgrims", as they call themselves, quickly run up against Jack Kaldec, drug pusher and procurer of children for prostitution. Kaldec will stop at nothing to keep his dark world just as it is. But he hasn't counted on crossing swords with The Archangel...
R. D. Morrison, already recognised as an accomplished novelist for older teenagers, extends his range in this intriguing and unusual adult novel. Showing sensitivity and concern for a sector of our young people often shunned by society, he explores pressing questions such as whether we can really choose our own destiny, and whether the struggle between good and evil can ultimately be won.
Robert Daniel Morrison is the fifth generation of his family to be born in Sydney, where he still lives. A teenager when he began writing, Morrison had a number of poems and short stories published while still in his twenties. His first three unpublished novels were written by the time he'd reached thirty. By then he was involved in journalism and spent several years abroad.
Returning to Australia in 1970, he became a court reporter for the ABC and wrote a number of one-act plays, two of which were performed on stage.
In 1992, Margaret Hamilton Books published his novel for young adults, The Secret Sandwich, which was short-listed for an award and received high critical approval. A reviewer writing for The Australian Book Review said the novel left him looking forward to more from this perceptive and skilful new writer. Hamilton brought out another novel, Javta's Ghost, in 1994.
Last Journey is Morrison's first novel for adults to be published. Most of its characters, compared with those in his children's books, go to the opposite extremenone of them is younger than seventy!
This is an original thriller in that the more usual crime themes justice versus revenge, police corruption, the impotence of the justice system, paedophilia and vigilanteism are played out against a backstory of more unusual issues of self-doubt, care of the aged, euthanasia, and the 'good death'. Morrison's work is unusual, also, in its cast of main characters five elderly people battered by their lives and disappointments, but wanting to salvage some goodness in themselves to use to benefit others. These are older people whose weakened constitutions often cannot live up to their intentions, but whose efforts, even when lethal, are not futile.
Donna Lee Brien, Imago
Raw integrity and foolhardiness define both the content and ambition of R D Morrison's third novel, his first for adults. Steering away from writing for children, Morrison's lead characters in Last Journey are all seventy-plus.
Retired doctor Gabriel McLeish and his Robin Hood gaggle of merry pensioners establish a refuge for homeless children in Manly. Early successesencouraged by a social worker named Marioare soon overshadowed by the presence of Jack Kaldec, child prostitution racketeer for whom the refuge signifies an obstacle to his own ends. The plot quickly shifts gear from local crime hassles to courtroom intrigueand ultimately to vigilante-style murder.
Flourishing verbosity, linguistic wordplays, deep metaphors these things weigh little in Morrison's mind are substituted instead for an appropriately prosaic, unobtrusive style. Morrison employs an unswerving attention to narrative and pace, constructing scenes with cinematic discipline. Clever use of foreshadowing, varied perspective and character tensions amount to a thoroughly enjoyable read. With its filmic qualities, Last Journey reads like a screenplay where Cocoon meets Death Wish.
Ben Zipper, Australian Book Review
A Poet, a Playwright, and a Childrens Short Story author, this is Robert Morrisons first published novel for adults. Best described, strangely enough, as a Vision Quest, the story follows retired doctor Gabriei McLeish and his elderly friends through their pian to leave a legacy, a refuge for street kids in Manly, Sydney.
They group together as the Pilgrim Foundation, committing bequeathments to the group, organising a safe house and staff to help the homeless youths of the area. But it doesnt take long before theyre causing waves with their good intentions, and vested criminal interests are soon focussed in their direction.
Morrison packs much into this novel. His protagonists are true-to-life senior citizens, down to the strange, wise-but-street-inexperienced views they hold and their stilted-but-realistic dialogue. The plot arches across much territory usually held by the Murder Mystery, from gritty streets to criminal maneuverings to tense character examinations and conflicts (and a few dead bodies), but a Murder Mystery this is not. This is the story of a spiritual pilgrimage of (as one of the characters says) (our) chance to...to do something really good for others before we die.
The novel has its faults. At times the plot progression creaks, the villain doesn't ring true, and occasionally the characters' voices lose distinctiveness. But the tale of Archangel Gabriel, his friends and their quest is a good one, certainly uplifting and very human. Well worth the read.
Jack Wynguard, Social Alternatives