Books: From the Marrow

THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH

by THOMAS KENEALLY 178 pages. Viking. $6.50.

In the rugged homestead country of Australia one evening in 1900, the wife of one of the area's white settlers answers a knock at her farmhouse door. Out of the darkness rushes the hired man, an aboriginal, flailing about with an ax. Moments later the farmer's wife, her two daughters and a schoolmistress-boarder lie hacked to death.

What sort of creature could commit such an act? Could the seemingly random slaughter have any kind of meaning?

Exploring these questions Australian Novelist Keneally seems to...