Lee Christine – Crackenback

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021

This is the second in a series of suspenseful crime fiction novels set in the Snowy Mountains of NSW, the first being Charlotte Pass.

Revenge drives the crime spree of the murderous perpetrator, who uses his knowledge of the bush and his advanced survival skills to elude authorities. This in turn leads to the involvement of innocents, Eva and her daughter Poppy, in a gripping siege-like situation, set largely in the picturesque Golden Wattle Lodge, which Eva manages. The notion of the intrusion of the past into the present hangs heavily over this tale.

A likeable and committed police team is led by Pierce Ryder on the trail of the elusive fugitive, Gavin Hutton. At the same time, Eva’s ex-lover, Jack Walker, appears at Golden Wattle, wounded and also on the track of said villain, both hunter and hunted. Having figured out the mentality of Hutton, Walker is convinced that he is after Eva and Poppy – we later find out why. As a result, Walker more or less takes them captive in the lodge to wait out the inevitable arrival of the villain.

While we wait with bated breath for an attack, the police force is at work investigating every angle. The always changeable and often unpredictable mountain weather plays its part in keeping us on tenterhooks, as does the potentially hostile geography of the high alps.

Lee Christine skilfully combines all of these elements to create a niggling sense of dread from the outset, which steadily builds as we reach the climax of the story. Themes of protection, confinement, and the nurturing relationships of family and colleagues underpin the deft unfolding of the crime narrative. This is not a tale requiring the identification of a perpetrator, but rather a nail-biting cat and mouse game in play.

The author interests herself in the pyschololgy of her characters, as well as their personal lives, doubt, fears, joys and triumphs. Set against Hutton’s murderous hatred is the instinctual love of family, demonstrated by both sides of this fictional equation. That irrationality and impulsive action can be the result of love and protectiveness is not perhaps a surprise to us.

This is such an enjoyable read – the familiarity of the landscape of the Snowies from our tobogganing, ski-ing or walking trips is but one hook for the reader. Canberra locals in particular will find themselves mentally driving the routes of much of this story or crunching their way through the snow, red-nosed and woolly-hatted.

An easy narrative style and engaging story and cast make this book hard to put down until the denouement assures us that all is well and that more stories will follow.

My love for good cover design impels me also to comment on the fine work here of Nada Bakovic. After all, you know what they say about books and covers.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the review copy.