Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020
The Shearer’s Wife is the 16th and latest of Fleur McDonald’s best-selling rural suspense novels. It is set in small town regional South Australia and with a rich cast of characters, some of whom carry over from previous books. For new readers, no previous reading is required to immediately feel familiarity with the Barker community.
Police Detective Dave Burrows, Senior Constable Jack Higgins and journalist Zara Ellison form the mystery busting trio in this novel. We meet them as they step into an operation so important that the AFP has come to town – very unsympathetically drawn as big-noting, big town bullies.
Our Barker cops always come up looking more professional, courteous and better equipped to deal with local issues, with their deep local knowledge of community and capacity to talk to local people.
This story plays out over four decades with dramatic events occurring both in 1980 and in 2020 and with an exploration of the long trails that trauma inevitably leaves.
The author weaves an absorbing mystery, whilst also teasing out a number of serious social themes – amongst them: grief, loss, separation, family division, estrangement, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug use and dealing, domestic/family abuse, trust, loyalty and community dynamics.
Sharing many plot details will inevitably spoil story surprises for the reader and so I shall refrain. Suffice it to say that joining the dots of time in a way that ends well for most requires that our heroes and heroines use their wits and their compassion in equal measure.
Fleur McDonald has established a loyal following of readers of crime fiction and bush noir. It is due in no small part, I am sure, to her capacity to create relatable and admirable characters – the reader is urging them on and wishing them to a successful and safe conclusion from start to finish. In a world of uncertainty and challenge, this relationship with fictional goodness is a balm.
Fleur Donald is an author who brings her own brand of useful compassion to just to her work but to her life in the real world. She insistently leaves her readers with hope, no matter how dire the path to the denouement.
In the world outside of books, the author has founded DVassist to fund domestic violence services and information for rural women. The website https://dvassist.org.au/ provides access to counselling services and much practical information across a range of needs.
Many thanks to Allen & Unwin for the review copy of The Shearer’s Wife and for facilitating my interview with Fleur. It was the deepest privilege for me.