But though Cameron’s relative brevity at 80,000 words and novel format vary the Mysteries tradition, in both his title and his structure he showed he was familiar with the form and its possibilities, especially what Reynolds and Lippard had achieved. He uses with some skill the interchange of melodra- matic present and retrospective narratives to condense emotional drama with retrospective urban documentary, notably in part 9, the longest, which is itself called “Melbourne Mysteries.”
In order to actualize in human terms the forces that the mysteries explore, Sue focused on a ruptured princely family and its lower-class avatars; Reynolds deployed an “opposing brothers” pattern linked to fragile nuclear families; Lippard used an interlocking series of socially varied broken families; Judson juxtaposed families and friendships, all uncertain of stability. Cameron, both more focused and more structurally condensed, possibly influenced by the city men found in Lippard and Judson, concentrates on a male triptych, three onetime friends now variously at odds, both with each other and over the one available woman; and then, interfering with their fortunes, he introduces a double-gendered “vengeance from the past” story.
Focal at the start and finish are three young men, Hugh Hanlon, Robert Wilton and Harry Robertson, working in a Melbourne bank. They all love Linda—she has no unmarried surname and little identity beyond that of respon- sive womanhood. She chooses Robert, who throughout is represented as having outstanding physical and personal “magnetism” (58). Hugh takes this very badly—his is “a cruel, sensual, idolatrous love” (51)—and he spins off into drink, gambling and determined hatred, sinking to the lower depths of Mel- bourne life. Harry takes his rejection nobly and remains a friend, suffering with reticence: but both providence and his own inner strength (also class- based) link up when a relative leaves him a grand income and a fine house.
The secondary plot emerges when Hugh is met in the street by the glam- orous nouveau riche Marian: she has always loved Robert and funds Hugh as an agent to destroy his marriage to Linda. Through Hugh’s semi-criminal acquaintances in “the ring” of gamblers and dubious financiers, he is able to make Robert’s bank tally fall short—white-collar crime fiction emerges; a check for £400 turns to one for £100 through the use of self-fading ink. Robert, however charming, is never the strongest character: he begins to worry, and drink, and is easily swayed by Hugh into gambling with the corrupt ring, and on into the arms of Marian.
Linda suffers and laments to Harry; Hugh presses her to no avail, in the process singing appropriately, if also menacingly, “The Tempest of the Heart,” from Il Trovatore (53). Robert ends up massively in debt; a final “ring” coup to fix the Melbourne Cup fails and Robert, Marian and all the ringers are ruined. Faced with Robert’s embezzlement of £6,700, Linda appeals to Harry. For his love of Robert, rather than of her, the noble Harry saves Robert finan- cially, so he can become a repentant husband, father of two and thriving city merchant. Hugh, frustrated in both lust and vengeance, is run over by a sub- urban train. Marian, whose last act is to save Robert from prosecution when, the money re-paid, she uses power from her past to neutralize the hostile bank inspector, ends up a beautiful suicide in her beautiful St Kilda home.