The murder of a young woman, a defection from Red China, suggestions of political interference in the workings of the police and of violence in the union movement—all these were great material for the daily newspapers in Sydney in the 1980’s, and even more so when they all appeared to be linked.
The realities as they were worked out in the lives of the people involved might be something else again.
This novel, though published now, was written in the 1980’s, when newspapers seemed to play a larger part in conveying and even creating important events, when China was still Red China, and when defections from one “world” to another were big news, and when communist parties as such still had a role in Australian life.
A party of travellers, dealing with their own irritations and hopes, journeys in the comparatively closed country of China. Their young female guide has a big impact on them all. A young man returns home consumed with the loss of the intense relationship he has formed. But the young woman herself later has the opportunity to escape in Sydney. Her flight is newsworthy, and her fate becomes involved with those of a range of characters, apart from the young man who has fallen in love with her. One is an Australian Olympic swimmer who enjoyed modest sporting success, but whose entrepreneurial failures threaten to embarrass an important newspaper owner together with his horse-racing associates. Another is a journalist for whom the defection is an opportunity that must be exploited. Still another is a golden-tongued communist theoretician and leader of a small splinter party, who has good reason to fear a too-close examination of his disbursement of party funds. Also involved are the women—long-suffering or embittered or both—who continue to support the party leader and the entrepreneur in the scandals and their over-reaching, and a number of competing journalists, police officers and union enforcers who endeavour to contain the story as it develops—complicated by the woman’s murder—and to ensure an outcome satisfactory to higher interests.