Book Review: “Cop & Robber” by Tristan Bancks (@tristanbancks⁩ @PenguinBooksAus @EasternRegional)

Cop & Robber (Penguin Books Australia, July 2022) by Tristan Bancks

Cop & Robber, by award-winning Australian author Tristan Bancks, is a captivating novel for “middle grade” or readers aged eight to twelve.

While it is widely considered that readers of this age group – especially boys – need gripping books, this story suits reluctant readers of all backgrounds. It challenges them to consider a wide range of issues about family and society.

The 13-year-old protagonist Nash Hall divides his time between his separated parents. His mother is a dedicated police officer, while his father, a former boxing champion, is a criminal “who just can’t seem to go straight”.

When Nash’s father asks him to help committing a robbery in order to clear his debts to some very dangerous men, Nash faces a tough choice between “doing the right thing” and “protecting his parents and himself”.

Worse, the plan is to rob Nash’s school, where he is about to compete in an important race that can launch his athletic career. He also has to face those schoolmates who tease and mock him everyday for having a criminal dad.

Perhaps surprising to some adults, Cop & Robber is neither “dumbed down” nor “sanitised” for its intended audience. The book opens with a thrilling car chase after Nash’s father robbed a petrol station, and there are guns, knives, punch-ups and blood in the story.

Even better, the story is set in the fictional town of Broken Ridge in inland New South Wales, a bushranging area on the edge of the desert, where the locals are about to encounter their worst dust storm in a decade.

The harsh natural environment reflects the inner conflicts that Nash constantly endures, between his love and care for his father and his sense of duty and responsibility to his mother, between right and wrong, love and resentment, justice and crime, freedom and guilt.

Although Nash is often in emotional turmoil, struggling to determine what to do, why and how, there is a light touch throughout the book that brings a smile to our faces. Indeed, whenever Nash runs, we know there is hope. There is a sense of making it through, of survival and triumph, of faith and forgiveness.

That is not to say that all readers would agree with the ending – especially not all the adults. Bancks has surely taken some risk plotting the outcome of the robbery, but it is necessary for Nash – and those reading his story – to understand that both his parents and himself are not perfect.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional… The world is far from perfect. But, still, he needs to live in it and not think that everything is terrible all the time. He needs to keep going.”

Cop & Robber is definitely NOT a book that teachers, parents and/or guardians need to read first in order to decide whether it is suitable for those young readers in their care. Instead, it is a trustworthy and thought-provoking read about mutual understanding, acceptance and commitment among family members.

Note: This book review was originally titled “Fast-paced middle-grade crime nov el” and published under the title “A captivating novel” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, April 25, 2023, P.17.

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