Sarah Bailey – The Housemate

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021

This is a suspenseful crime thriller with an investigative journalist as its protagonist. Oli Groves is a new character for the author, known for her Gemma Woodstock trilogy. She’s an old-school print media journalist who believes in thorough research and well crafted long form articles.

Barbie speaks with Sarah Bailey about The Housemate

The story is told in two time frames, 10 years apart – Oli covers the horrific murder of a young woman in 2005, one of those stories that captures the public imagination. The convicted murderer is one of the housemates and a third housemate goes missing. Flick forward to 2015 and the case suddenly re-emerges.

By then Oli is engaged to Dean, the widow of the very police officer who led the investigation into the historic case, Isabelle Yardley, herself murdered some years back in a hit and run. These two ties make the case personal for Oli and she sets about a deep investigation of the new aspects of the case, which inevitably takes her back into the unresolved aspects of what happened ten years before.

Into the mix comes Cooper Ng, a young tech savvy chap appointed to work with her. He’s a podcaster, a social media native and highly irritating to Oli, not just because of his buoyant personality but because he represents the changes in the media landscape that will certainly affect her career. The development of their partnership is but one interesting strand of this wonderfully complex plot.

The author explores some very dark themes in this work – abuse of power is foremost and it’s across the domestic, societal and workplace scenarios. The sense of distrust we feel throughout this book is in a sense a channeling of Oli’s thought processes, based on her life experiences of being let down by those she should have been able to count on.  She comes with a history. We feel a malaise about almost everything and are unable to trust our own judgement as readers. It’s very clever writing.

One doesn’t want to spoil the story by letting any cats out of bags and so suffice it to say that there are betrayals, false paths, roiling relationships, mysteries and creepy events aplenty. In the mix there are hopeful points of light provided by acts of decency and kindness, friendships and relationships that do hold firm – thank goodness.

What a skilled writer Sarah Bailey is – she holds our interest, allows us to deceive ourselves at times, throws clues about but never lets us see too much. We’re in Oli’s head so completely we can never be an omniscient reader. This is thrilling, well written fiction and will have crime readers like me holding their breath for the next Oli Groves’ story.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy and Sarah Bailey for joining me on Living Arts Canberra to discuss this book. It was such a pleasure.