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Peter Carey: The Tax Inspector

Catchprice Motors is the central setting for this novel. Catchprice Motors is a not very successful G.M. dealership (If they had paid as much attention to Catchprice Motors as they paid to [Big Mack, their rockabilly band], there would have been no crisis ever.) The story starts with firing of Benny, who works in the spare parts department and who is probably the only one who really cares about Catchprice Motors but whose mistakes in ordering the wrong parts are costly and embarrassing. The family is Granny (Frieda Catchprice), who, ever since she was young, has made a habit of carrying gelignite (and detonators) with her, her daughter, Cathy (who fires Benny), and her son (Cathy’s brother), Mort, and Mort’s children Johnny (now a Hare Krishna called Vish), Benny and Cathy’s husband, Howie. There is also Frieda’s son, Jack, who has long since left and is now a successful developer. It is at this point that the Tax Inspector arrives. The tax inspector is Maria Takis, beautiful and pregnant. Granny Catchprice may be going senile but there again she may not. She is still the registered owner of Catchprice Motors.

The Catchprices, as you can see, are a dysfunctional family. Not only are their hearts not in their garage, they have a lot more problems than unpaid tax. There are skeletons in their closet (some are revealed early, such as the fact that Benny’s mum, Sophie, long since gone, shot and injured Benny when he was three; others are not revealed till the end). Maria the Tax Inspector is the catalyst that is going to lift the lid off this but her life is also going to be changed. She thought this was going to be just a routine tax audit but having her baby in the middle of it is the least of her difficulties. Alistair, the father of her baby, a fellow tax inspector and the husband of a drunken woman, whom he will not leave, is one of the problems. Her boss, Sally Ho, is another. And the Catchprices…, well they just serve to make her life even more complicated.

The past is slowly revealed as the present becomes more and more complicated. Benny becomes an angel. Maria has her baby. Jack Catchprice returns to help his family. And everything is sort of resolved. This is not Carey’s best book. It is too parochial, with all the action round the Tax Office and Catchprice Motors but it is still very funny and worth anyone’s time.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by University of Queensland Press