I was unaware that this novel is the second in a series, but it mattered little. It really was suitable as a standalone.
The tension begins from the first page when a woman plans to blow up a regulator wall, while a man runs frantically through a forest dodging shooters. Three months later a skeleton belonging to a man missing since 1943 is found. Detective Constable Nell Buchanan is assigned to investigate, returning to her home town where her family still lives. She’s has a difficult relationship with her family which peaks our curiosity. Then another body turns up.
This is not your classical rural crime novel as it has many layers flipping back and forwards in timeline, often without warning. There are also many characters to keep you on your toes as you, the reader try to piece the family and community ties both past and present.
The writing is brilliant, descriptive as it is beautiful, placing us in the Australian landscape of forest, river and small country town. ‘The lack of wind meant there was nothing to mitigate the oppression that enveloped the weatherboard house on the plain above the Cadell Tilt. It baked and it sweated and it cowered, its iron roof shimmering like a skillet.’
The locals are cringe-worthy. ‘He has a face like a slab of marble, white and veined with pink, topped with a strawberry-blond mullet so thickly woven it could be a doormat.’ And they are suspicious, curious and not always friendly.
Tension grows from the shadowy presence of preppers, cookers and twitchers as we’re never really sure who they are. Nell becomes embroiled in an old family feud as things get personal and old grudges emerge the more she digs deeper into the mystery.
Nell herself gives little away and at times I wondered if she really had grown up in the area as she seemed quite disconnected. She certainly didn’t head down memory lane to give us much insight into anything more than her family background. But then that was the point as the family tree came together like a piece out of ancestory.com. As I read I was kind of wishing I had the chart to refer to but when I saw it mapped out at the end, I realised that advanced knowledge would give away some of the twists. And there are a lot of twists much like the Murray River so well featured in the family saga.
I really loved this novel, the first I’ve read by Hammer and I’ll be searching for the rest.