Nikki Mottram – Killarney

University of Queensland Press, Australia, 2024
Cover design Christabella Designs
Cover photograph by Shutterstock

The second Dana Gibson crime thriller is an examination of the nature of family, including sibling relationships and maternal love. These two themes and subject lines not only propel the plot but also determine the strong character focus of the book. This is, of course, fitting with a heroine who works in child protection.

Barbie spoke to Nikki Mottram about Killarney

Dana and colleague Lachlan go to the small town of Killarney when a foster child under their care, Jayden Maloney, goes missing. There she meets Lachlan’s younger brother Sean and learns about their family feud and the reasons for Lachlan’s reluctance to engage with the Killarney community. At the same time, Dana finds herself sexually attracted to Sean despite his raffish reputation.

A flood subsequently isolates the town and Dana is stranded there with other town folk, forced to lodge in the pub. Close proximity and inactivity make a pressure cooker of an already fraught situation.

A recent hit and run already has the town’s nerves on edge and Jayden’s disappearance further fuels this tension. Nevertheless, investigation is difficult as the small-town reluctance to talk to people in authority keeps people tight lipped – the police and the child protection workers are seen as the enemy by many.

Meanwhile, a private drama is underway for Dana at home with her neighbour and dear friend, Susan. Readers of Nikki Mottrams’ first book Crow’s Nest will know that Dana has become very attached to Susan’s grandson, Angus, who is in her care because his mother Tina has a long history of drug abuse and has been unable to care for him.

In this book, Susan becomes gravely ill with cancer and she makes it clear that she wants Dana to be the legal carer for Angus. Long held resentments and jealousies are aroused and sparks fly.

The Killarney situation is further darkened by allegations of paedophilia against the priest, Blair Hedley. Vigilante justice is never pretty. When Blair is detained by police and of necessity housed in the pub, things take a very dark turn.

Nikki Mottram has deftly built the tension in this work, layering story upon story of simmering resentments, complex family relationships, standover tactics, small town silences, drug abuse and trafficking, abandoned children and their fragmented lives.

But it is also a story of the kindness, courage and dedication of child protection workers, drawing on the author’s real-life experience in the field and demonstrating her regard for the work of these often maligned individuals and their departments.

Above all we are conscious of the dualities of fragility and strength in children, and indeed, in mothers. Our heroine is likeable for her frailties, I think. She does walk into danger when she feels the need to protect the vulnerable or seek out justice – we are often heart in mouth, and with good reason. But she also shows her own very human vulnerability.

She carries the trauma of the death of her child, the break down of her marriage and the sense of aloneness and isolation that relocating to regional Queensland has given her.

The book is a disarming mix of high drama, social commentary, crime investigation and romance. Nikki Mottram once again proves herself to be a storyteller capable of plumbing the depths of human behaviour at the same time as extolling the good that crises can bring out in people.

The crime fiction aspect of her writing is informed by a compassionate world view, derived from experience, tolerance and a non-judgemental view of her fellow human beings. She also knows how to write a darn good pacy tale that holds the reader to the end.

I look forward to book three.

Thank you to UQP for my review copy and to Nikki for talking to me about the complex issues in this book and in the world of child protection.