Although he was the son of convicts transported from Great Britain to Australia, Ben Hall didn’t seem headed for a life of crime. He becomes a successful grazier, marries, and fathers a son. However, things fall apart when Ben’s wife leaves him for a stockman in 1862. Within a few months Ben is robbing drays with a pack of bushrangers. At first the pickings are easy, and Hall’s gang is celebrated when they take over a town and lock its policeman in his own cell. They take over the town again, just to prove that they can do as they please.
The bushranger’s game isn’t so amusing by November 1864, when Game picks up Ben Hall’s misadventures. Drays now travel New South Wales’ roads in groups, protected by armed escorts. Ben’s cohorts begin to lose their lives – and to take them. When a guard is killed, pursuit of Ben’s bushrangers intensifies. American readers will recognize echoes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the dwindling gang is relentlessly driven. Though Ben is supported by an increasingly thin network of relatives and friends, the police are closing in. Ben realizes that he is in a trap. He could disappear into the bush, but then he would never see his son again. There is no way for the pursuit to end well.
Shearston’s prose and imagery are as gritty and sparse as the outback’s desert vegetation, and perfectly suited for Ben’s flight through the Australian bush – sometimes beautiful, but increasingly desperate. If you like Butch Cassidy or Bonnie and Clyde, you won’t want to miss Game.