The Signal Line by Brendan Colley won the Unpublished Manuscript Prize in the 2019 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards.
The main character was Geo, who had just returned to Hobart to convince his brother Wes to sell their parent’s house so he could use his share of their inheritance to continue auditioning for his musical career in Europe. The night Geo arrived, Wes, a detective, collected Geo from the airport but before returning to their family home took a detour to the Royal Hobart Hospital to interview a group of Italians who had been sent after mysteriously arriving in Hobart after embarking on a train in Rome. Geo soon realised that Wes’ career was on thin ice as he interpreted the Italians’ story about a ghost train for Wes, the police and the hospital staff.
Go also quickly realised that Wes’ drinking and belligerent temper had caused his marriage to come to an end and that Wes had been living at their parent’s home, sleeping in his father’s reclining chair in the living room just as their father had used to do. Wes refused to sell the house, change anything or even clean up or throw away rubbish in their parent’s house, insisting instead that the house remain a shrine to their father.
Geo, however, had always aligned with their mother and had left Hobart vowing never to return after a terrible fight with his father after their mother’s death.
When Geo met Sten, a mysterious Swede who was chasing the ghost train, he invited Sten to stay with him and Wes (all of them sleeping on chairs and sofas in the living room with Wes).
When Geo and Sten randomly met a couple of idealistic young backpackers Geo invited them to stay at his parent’s house too. In return for their accommodation Sten and the backpackers offered to paint the house which Geo hoped would get them a better price if he could convince Wes to sell it, but more importantly, the others had the ability to defuse Wes’ anger, something Geo couldn’t do on his own.
Sten also introduced Geo and Wes to a Hobart book store owner who was documenting the ghost train’s appearance as well as other paranormal activity. As a group, they drank with Wes and smoked Sten’s marijuana before roaring around the suburbs Tasmania chasing the ghost train, communicating with spirits and taking other paranormal activity in their stride. The dope probably helped.
I believed in the characters and their causes from the beginning, along with the ghost train. I liked and wanted the best for Geo, whose relationship with his father had been completely different to the relationship which Wes had enjoyed. As I learned more about the historic circumstances that made Geo and Wes who they were today, I actually found it in myself to want the best for Wes, too.
Readers who know Hobart will love gallivanting around town with this oddball group in The Signal Line.
My purchase of The Signal Line continues my New Year’s resolution for 2022 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (June).