This is historic fiction but not as we know it.
Set in Darwin during World War Two, it opens with Molly Hook a young child, digging graves for her father and uncle who care more for moonshine and stealing items of value from graves than for her. Her life is hard having lost her mother. She lives in a cemetery with her only friend Bert her shovel, and looks to the sky for guidance. When bombs begin falling, she grabs her grandfather’s treasure map and runs with the idea that if she can locate Longcoat Bob she can convince him to lift the curse she believes he put on their family many years earlier. She meets up with Greta Maze a sharp-witted actress and Yukio, a Japanese pilot along the way and find that they too have their own need to run.
The history of the Japanese invasion of Darwin and the impact on Australia was a fascinating account both from the point of view of Yukio as well as from the various characters in the book.
What stands out with this novel is the characters who are all very well drawn. The relationship between the glamourous actress, Greta, the caring Yukio and Molly was heartfelt and beautifully portrayed. Dare I say it, the star of the show would have to be Bert, the shovel who comes in handy on many occasions throughout the odyssey.
Dalton excels in placing us right into the landscape, the rocks, the foliage, the animals and especially the crocodiles and the imagery is a vivid showcase of Australian landscape reflected also in the magnificent book cover.
The second half of the book fell into magical fantasy which was completely unexpected and jarred a little but I went with it, fantastical as it was with a craziness from a completely vivid imagination. As I read, I found it a little difficult to take the leap to believability.
Yet it’s a very well written book, grappling with themes of intergenerational trauma, loss and hope, and like a fable is a good one to read. Thoroughly enjoyable.