Saturday, 7 November 2020

Podcast review: Trace: The Informer, ABC (2020)

This is the first in a new collection of posts; about podcasts (I’ve been listening to them in my new RAV4 Hybrid, so expect more such articles on the blog).

Chronicling the life and times of Nicola Gobbo, who was both a lawyer for Melbourne criminals and a police informer, ‘The Informer’ does the job nicely. Rachel Brown is the chief reporter.

Her show has tons of in-depth reporting. Both journalists responsible for the investigative work used for it work for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). At times the drama is amped up a tad high on account of the – illegality – of much of what happens to different people. As though breaking the law is the worst thing that a person can do. The moral compass featured in this production is narrowish. Many worse things are possible – as fiction (especially the novel) demonstrates – but Brown and her colleague Josie Taylor fix their ideas firmly within the bounds of propriety.

The modern shade of pink used for the title graphic is redolent with meaning, but given the way the series ends I’m not sure it’s entirely justified. Other people might have different views on this issue. 

Feminised stories fit the community’s expectations, and women have traditionally been among the most enthusiastic consumers of crime stories that are produced by both journalists and authors. Gobbo bent the rules in many ways, becoming personally involved with some of the people she met in the course of her working life. An affair with a policeman, and another with a drug dealer, serve as tonic points that add meaning to the podcast and help the listener to build a vibrant picture of the subject. 

Not that merely breaking the law is in itself without merit as a point of focus for a podcast. The thing is that fiction since at least the 18th century has been showing us precisely how incapable mere law tends to be (perhaps those authors might’ve done better to listen to more podcasts …). The tragedies that dead writers – both men and women – describe in their works often feature bad behaviour that is perfectly legal but that leads to the destruction of lives and to suffering that can only be described through fiction. In our earnest age where old certainties are breaking down amid a new world order we seem to have lost the ability to understand what is valuable, and instead choose to rely predominantly on the letter of the law to tell us how to behave. What might Dickens think of this development? Or Maupassant?

We know from Netflix that crime is a popular subject. A line should always be drawn between fiction and journalism, however, and while everything that is reported in ‘The Informer’ is factually correct the tone used in the conveyance sometimes verges on the melodramatic and sensational. I promised myself to listen to the first series of ‘Trace’, which is about a different set of people and which was aired on the ABC in 2017, but it’s not available in the podcast catalogue.

In ‘The Informer’ the line between fiction and fact is crossed on occasion and you feel as though Brown and Taylor invite the listener to sit on the edge of his or her seat regardless what’s being conveyed. Brown narrates the eight episodes in the series and she provides a terrific delivery, one that is both authoritative and engaging.

Death, lying, prison, drugs, money … such things constitute the lineaments of our desire? I wonder if anyone might occasionally insist that the rewards of crime mightn’t be worth the price people pay for them? Nicola Gobbo certainly paid a high price – she’s now living outside the country at an undisclosed location – but it’s arguable whether the people who made the series uncovered why it was that she did what she did. By the end of this podcast, questions remained in my mind. Perhaps if Brown and Taylor had taken further the fictional impulse, more answers might’ve resulted in the making.

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