A Blue Room Book Review – Atomic City – Sally Breen


As your average ‘Mexican’ – southern visitor to the Gold Coast – for me Surfers Paradise and surrounds are redolent of bright sunshine, grey-cloud free skies, azure sea and endless golden beaches. It streets and strands feature and endless array of humanity shedding outer layers. After years of teaching in a smallish community, it is where I went to to feel free. These days, for the hipster, it is the ultimate tourist cliché, but I adore the hedonistic strip. Once upon I time I would have said I preferred the hippier Sunshine Coast, but, as ‘The Dealer’ says, ‘Of course people do the same shit in Noosa as they do on the Gold Coast; it’s just that Noosa makes people think they’re doing it better.’ Then there is, or was, the ultra-hip Byron – but these days even there has lost some of its sheen. Nowadays my personal focus is more beachside than beaches, being in my dotage. Flying into Coolangatta, though, is still the bees’ knees. I’ve been up to Mangoland umpteen times, although I have never attained my once longed for aim – the goal that Graeme Connors turned in a minor anthem for me (any many others I may suggest) – that of ‘Going a little further north each year.’ I don’t care now. I like to go where I feel comfortable and it’s now a place I know reasonably well. I am off up there in a few days, and another Gold Coast holiday will have been completed by the time this is blogged – and hopefully there will be tales to tell!!!

The Gold Coast caters for all age groups of ‘Mexicans’. In our younger, single years we stayed in the bustle of Surfers itself, although ‘Schoolies’ wasn’t heard of way back when. Once the sprouts arrived various ‘Worlds’ were the major attractions. These days we tend to base ourselves further south, in the more sedate surrounds of Burleigh Heads, Currumbin or around the Tweed – exactly where we’ll be this time around.

But obviously the view the ordinary punter receives, no matter where he/she is on the strip, is just the glitzy outer skin. Listen to ‘The Dealer’. For him we see ‘…a city of surfaces, an ocean of seamless blue framed by frivolous edges and as for what’s underneath?’ – well we don’t see ‘All that endless covert possibility.’

In a recent episode of ‘Media Watch’ our host reported on a shyster who had ‘stung’ innocent investors of squillions in a dodgy real estate scam, his victims cajoled into it by ‘trustworthy’ celebrities such as Jamie Drury and Eva Milic, a former Miss Australia and now television newsreader on the Coast. He reported how ‘Four Corners’ had tracked down the perpetrator now living in a Mermaid beach McMansion. He was all sunny smiles and bling until the reporting narrowed in on his business dealings, upon which he disappeared behind locked doors. In my mind he could easiy have been the prototype for PJ or Harvey, the callous wheeler-dealers of Sally Breen’s fine sophomore offering, ‘Atomic City’, set on this, Queensland’s sun-drenched far southern coast.

One doesn’t need a novel to alert to alert us to the fact that there is a darker, seamier side under the epidermis of Surfers and its surrounds. Newspaper headlines have been telling us for decades. Breen, though, ably takes us into this world – to the place she describes as a ‘mini-California. Perhaps Miami would have been a more apt analogy, but even so the world inhabited by the aforementioned ‘The Dealer’, PJ and Harvey, along with their calculating ‘honeypot’, Jade, is stunningly bought to life. Breen aims, successfully, at a hard-boiled style – film noir on a page.

Jade is the fulcrum of all the activity – a chameleon masterminding scams to rip off the ripper-offerers – and does so, for a while, with great aplomb. Aided by her sidekick, ‘The Dealer’, who quickly becomes enamoured of this loose young – perhaps too young in terms of age to be so manipulative (but what would this Mexican know?) – operator. The Dealer is well aware of the danger of being so in her thrall, for it all must come tumbling down at some stage, mustn’t it? He wants to be well out of range when it does. Jade is a more youthful, and blonde, version of the ‘Hustle’s’ Stacie Monroe, and it was Jaime Murray’s face (and body) I had in mind as I read ‘Atomic City’. Jade was more prepared to use her bits to effect far more than Stacie ever did, but you get the picture! And use them she did – indiscriminately and to lethal effect.


Sally’s first novel ‘The Casuals’ received rave recommendations from notables such as Frank Moorehouse and Matt Condon, and she lives – you guessed it – on the Gold Coast – Mermaid Beach to be precise. On the basis of this novel she is a writer to keep an eye on. Hopefully, unlike her character, she will not sparkle brightly for a couple of literary forays and then fade, as Jade did with her shifty operations!


1 thought on “A Blue Room Book Review – Atomic City – Sally Breen

  1. I’ve been looking forward to reading this one since you passed it on. Even more now. Love reading your blogs again x


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