Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020
This is a thrilling second novel from the author of the best-selling Six Minutes.
Beginning in a distinctly domestic milieu with a primary school teacher suffering the breakdown of her 20 -odd-year marriage, the story moves inexorably into the dark realms of sociopathic crime. We feel our hackles rise as we live this story with Allison Walsh. It’s an emotionally demanding book with layer upon layer of conflicting emotions for the reader to navigate.
With themes exploring deception and perception, trust, medical ethics, societal, family and other personal relationships, self-image, shame, the desire for goodness and the impenetrability of some forms of evil, this novel is absolutely engaging from start to finish.
Allison takes under her wing a young student, Gracie, suffering from a rare form of cancer and consequently the child’s father, Luke. She grapples at the same time with the puzzle of her husband’s departure from their marriage and his secretive behaviour around his new relationship. Her relationship with her teenage son is also crumbling.
Her young friend Maz, apparently an ally, also has her secrets. Allison’s decision to give a home to young Gracie and her dad and then to embark on a major community fundraising campaign to send the child to America for specialist treatment are simultaneously stations on her way to becoming stronger and more independent and red flags frantically warning of the danger into which she is blithely walking.
One cannot in review discuss plot without spoiling this gripping tale. Suffice it to say that as readers, we are both aware and in the dark for most of this story. We may twig at times but we do not fully understand what is happening at any point in the mystery until the last pages. This is a well-crafted psychological thriller in which we are willingly absorbed. We are constantly willing on our heroine to overcome evil but we are never completely above or outside her and her struggles. We actually start to feel her anxiety.
A credible cast of support characters gives the story enough flesh to satisfy our need for verisimilitude and the very sunny suburbia of the setting provides a clever overlay to the lurking wickedness underpinning the plot.
I loved this book. It kept me up reading into the wee small hours a couple of nights, unable to settle before reaching waypoints of resolution. I look forward to Petronella McGovern’s next one.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending me a review copy and to DMCPR for facilitating an interview with the author.