Two Australian books caught my attention this month, the first one from a team at Ridley College Melbourne 'Rethinking Peter Singer: a Christian Critique' edited by Gordon Preece (InterVarsity Press pp 180 $32.95 softcover)  Next  from the noted social researcher and columnist Hugh Mackay with his latest novel 'Winter Close' (Hodder Headline, 296 pp; $22.95 softcover)

Editor Gordon Preece argues that Peter Singer is probably world's most famous contemporary philosopher. Recently appointed as professor of bioethics in Princeton University, Singer is best known for his book on animal rights, 'Animal Liberation', and for his philosophical text 'Practical Ethics'. He presents the most radical challenge to Christian ethics proposed in recent times.

Educated at Melbourne University, Singer was a professor at Monash for twenty years, and stood as a Greenie for the Australian Senate in 1996. His family were Jewish and of considerable intellectual pedigree, but Singer declined his mar mitzvah. 

The 'theological foursome' who penned this book have  all been  staff members at Ridley College Melbourne - former principal Graeme Cole, Lindsay Wilson vice principal, Andrew Sloane a medic, and Gordon Preece director of Ridley's Centre of Applied Christian Ethics, the last also  writes for the left winged tabloid 'Arena', and is a Commissioning Editor for 'Zadok Perspectives'

The book is an excellent critique for questions like Who is Peter Singer? What does he say about issues such as abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and animal rights? What does he say about Christianity? What exactly is his philosophy? Is it really all that radical or unique? How should Christians evaluate his moral philosophy? 

A thorough critique and  a good  parallax.

Our second book comes from Hugh Mackay who is probably better known as a social commentator than a novelist. In 'Winter Close' Mackay skilfully draws scenes of urban life in West Sydney, portraying neighbours who become an 'herd' as a result of proximity.

Suburban life is treated harshly, some even thinking that life would be better if  lived in the inner city or the bush. Many like not knowing their neighbours, and suburbia offering a cloak of anonymity with the security of intimacy.

The main character Tom is a counsellor who is trying to rebuild his life after divorce - carrying his shadow of pain and his marriage fatigue, and 'sprayed with the sarcasm of flies'. He is a typographic man, wedded to the printed page, with Gutenberg the father of his downfall.

Then a violent storm breaks over Winter Close… and life takes a new turn

'Winter Close' is probative of Mackay's genius, often a biblical prophet and  a savant for our times