Shelley Burr – Wake

Hachette, Australia, 2022
Cover design by Debra Bilson
Cover photographs Stocksy, Franckreporter/Getty Images and Shutterstock

It’s an online true crime chat group that creates the jokey moniker for the case at the heart of this book, and that is its title.

Wednesday Addams Killed Evie (WAKE) is an acronym, callous and with no regard for truth, which insists upon the guilt of Mina, the sister of a missing girl Evelyn McCreery (Evie).

Shelley Burr talks about Wake

Apparently, Mina bears a striking likeness to the character from the long running TV series and film as portrayed by Christina Ricci.

In a story focussed on the impact of missing persons’ cases on the family of the victim, this is a particularly poignant element. The author makes use of the group to give us a running public commentary on the course of the investigation – she sees them as a sort of Greek Chorus.

The influence of public opinion and media, more recently social media, on missing persons’ investigations is undeniable, and it certainly runs hot in this novel. Perhaps for the older reader though, the title will evoke memories of the Australian film classic Wake in Fright and its suspenseful and atmospheric plot. It did for me and Shelley Burr’s Wake is indeed crackling with tension.

Two missing girl cases run parallel in the story and we are sent on some wild goose chasing in the course of the procedural that is the framework of the work – along with the heroic and at times anti-heroic, Lane Holland, Private Investigator who comes to the fictional rural NSW town of Nannine with a reputation for success in the field. What develops, however, is so much more than a police procedural style novel.

Not only is Lane playing a longer game but he also has a deeper agenda arising from his personal story of domestic abuse. I cannot say too much without interfering with the unfolding of the winding plot but suffice it to say that the exploration of family relationships is a major preoccupation of this story.

Mina and Lane develop a tricky relationship, partly because she is suspicious of his motives, having made herself into something of a recluse in the face of intense public scrutiny of her family at the height of the police  investigation into the case.

The flames of this were fanned for a long time by Mina’s mother who was determined to bring as much attention as possible to the case in the hope of finding her daughter (preferably alive). Mina’s father by contrast has run away from both the family farm from which the disappearance takes place and to a large extent from real life.

Mina befriends the sister of another missing person through a support group and it is this case that Lane pursues on his way to the discovery of the truth behind Evie’s disappearance.

In small town missing person’s cases, it seems that people revert to an almost archetypal fear of strangers. They so want nobody in their community to be a child-murdering monster that they insist the perpetrator must be someone from outside.

And thus the author is able to exploit the outsider theme to full advantage. Lane is sucked into this maelstrom as the child of show people who travel from town to town, and who at the time of Evie’s disappearance were in Nannine. The plot thickens…

This is a skilfully told debut by Shelley Burr, character rich and with a plot that winds around truth and lies. The concealment of truth by commission or omission can lead to miscarriages of justice or the delay of an uncovering – in many cases, and it is so in this work, people tell lies for their own private guilty reasons, ones that may have no actual bearing on the crime but which do hinder the investigation for other reasons.

There’s perspicacious character observation in this book, but this human behaviour is also an enabling device to hold the reader longer in suspense.

There is resolution in this book and we need it. Like the community of Nannine, we seek the truth and justice for the abused, the stolen and the lost. And we thank the author when she delivers this, albeit tied firmly in realism rather than a neat story book bow.

Wake is a thoughtfully constructed novel bearing the marks of meticulous attention to detail and respect for real missing persons and their kin. It’s also excellent crime thriller material and I hope it is just the first of many works from this author.

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy and to Shelley for a serious and seriously good conversation about the missing, family, real life parenthood and this book.