- The Coffin Confessor, by Bill Edgar. Penguin, $34.99.
How many funerals have you been to and listened to "absolute crap"? If readers are honest some would say, "well, one or two". So Bill Edgar, somewhat to his own surprise, offered to intervene at funerals and read out the last words of the deceased. Words the deceased had been unable to utter.
Perhaps a dubious basis for a book. A few case studies - a gay bikie not able to come out to his bikie mates, but disclosing his real self as Bill Edgar reads his "confession" at the funeral.
An atheist, falling out with his family over the coming funeral, because they insisted on a religious service. Edgar tells the congregation the deceased despised religion and wanted none of it. Interesting enough, of course, but a book?
The Coffin Confessor is cleverly constructed. The case studies interweave with an account of Edgar's own life. It is an utterly appalling story. Edgar's mother can't stand her first-born. He has the name and looks of his father whom she hates.
Worse, she has a gambling addiction, so the family are dependent on their grandfather and live in poverty.
A thousand times worse yet, the grandfather, with his daughter's connivance, as Edgar later discovers, sexually abuses the boy from a very young age and for long years.
A sporting natural, Edgar wins a scholarship to the prestigious The Southport School - totally out of his class and comprehension.
There a devious teacher grooms Edgar and also sexually abuses him. The boy flees to the streets of the Gold Coast to live, quite successfully, as a homeless and unloved child. He meets, most fortuitously, the girl whom he will love and who loves him. She rescues him with her love.
Though, disastrously and unfairly, Edgar does time in Brisbane's notorious Boggo Road prison, surviving, as he did on the streets, by his quick-witted and sharply intelligent responses to dangers and threats. A kindly prison officer tells Edgar that his father was in the prison before him, wrecking his life. Edgar heeds the warning.
This is a brutal and confronting book. There is redemption, through love, and a great deal of hard work. And eventual happiness and a good life.
It is a tough read though, particularly in the telling of the appalling consequences of sexual abuse. Believable but thoroughly terrible.
However, some readers may wonder if the coffin confessor role is entirely sensible. Mourners are in deep grief, at their most vulnerable. They hear things which will demolish, hurt and confront. Bill Edgar would say he evens the score and helps in the awful business of dying. I don't know.