Breaking Lucky by Bruce Mitchell
Book Review


Danny ‘Lucky’ Thornton cursed his middle name. Born in 1895, asthma almost killed him when he was four, but he survived to be among the first volunteer lifeguards on Sydney’s Coogee Beach. Danny’s sister Cath dreamed of becoming a doctor at a time when they told women to ‘know their place’. She didn’t listen, and broke through the walls of prejudice to graduate from Sydney University the only woman in her class.

Danny came home from the war with a crippling wound and a shattered mind. Cath stared down a gun barrel in a night of terror and fell in love with a ‘Chinaman’ at the height of the White Australia Policy. Each embarked on an odyssey that would make or break them. Danny saddled a horse and rode west to kill his demons, and Cath made an emotional journey of love and life she’d never forget.

A story of love and courage sprinkled with wry humour, ‘Breaking Lucky’ captivates from page one.

My Thoughts

Bruce Mitchell's latest novel, Breaking Lucky, continues the saga of the Thorntons, a family of Irish free settlers who crossed the Blue Mountains of New South Wales to Orange in 1842 and became one of the area's prominent cattle graziers and farmers. This instalment focuses on the family of James and Sarah Thornton, in particular their youngest son, Danny, and their only daughter, Cath.

In 1900, when Danny's asthma worsens and a change of climate is recommended, the family leave Orange for a new life in Sydney. Here, James becomes the new publican of the Royal Hotel. The family continue to prosper, Danny's health benefits from being by the sea and Cath, despite the prejudice against women, forges ahead with her dream to become a doctor.

Intertwined with the lives of the Thorntons are historical events of early 20th century Australia – the major ones being Federation in 1901 and World War I. Mitchell also draws our attention to other events, such as the formation of the lifesavers club in 1907, which plays a significant part in Danny's early life, and in 1916, the mandatory closing of public bars at 6.00 pm when they normally remained open until 11.30 pm.

Danny's war service is filled with enlightening passages describing his embarkation on the troopship taking him to war, the disaster that was Gallipoli and his return to civilian life in Australia. The journey west, in an attempt to heal, showcases the attitudes and conditions in the remote and rural regions of Australia, but most importantly are the connections he makes and the advice he is given. This was one of my favourite parts of the novel.

Cath's story reflects the attitudes of the time towards women, especially those who battled to enter the professions regarded as the province of men. She is intelligent and determined to overcome this bias despite a few set backs. Her assignment to an aged care facility for women reveals another side to medicine that she had not considered, but it is through another discovery that she meets Detective Tom Wong and places both their lives in danger.

Breaking Lucky is a wonderful story of a loving family at a time of great change. Bruce Mitchell's writing style is engaging, making it an easy and comfortable read. It is filled with lots of historical detail and peppered with humour that is distinctively Australian.

I don't know if there will be a third book in the series. While the conclusion makes this a possibility and I would eagerly read more of the Thorntons, it was a lovely, but unexpected way, to end the novel.

Thank you to Bruce Mitchell for a complimentary copy to read and review.

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