A strong and enjoyable fiction debut from this accomplished Australian singer-songwriter. A highly recommended summer read.

holly-throsbyJean, 17, is growing up in a small country town, not far from the now-notorious Belanglo State Forest, not long before the first of those backpacker bodies are found.

First, Rosie, 18 and the town beauty, goes missing. It’s a strange enough thing to happen in a place like this.

Then Bart, the town’s butcher and one of its kindest and most-loved citizens, fails to return from a fishing trip on the local lake.

The locals find it perplexing and frightening. It’s too much in a town where nothing ever happens. For the first time, mothers lock the windows in their daughters’ bedrooms at night.

There are some dark secrets and unpleasant facts to be uncovered, as local policeman Mack starts to pull together the pieces of information that make sense of what has happened.

Jean, who has discovered a couple of strange things on her own, also finds her self in the throes of what might be her first real romance.

This is a book that it’s easy to lose yourself in. It’s not really a conventional thriller or mystery. It’s more of a slice of life – what happens to a small, close country town when something so dark and unexpected happens, and there’s a touch of coming-of-age too.

Jean, oddly, reminded me a little of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, and that is both that she seemed younger than almost-18, and that she develops into more of a keen observer than a key part of the action. She has that feeling of being a “good” person, with a great parent and grandparents.

I also thought there were a few too many characters, in terms of the number of named people who appeared intermittently in the story without being important. It added some unnecessary confusion.

But those are minor details overall. This is a great read, and I enjoyed the tone and the style. The key characters are strong and beautifully drawn, and the emotional impact of what happens is believable and engaging. Jean, for all her passivity a lot of the time, is a good companion for the length of the story.

This book was published in October 2016