TASMANIAN WILDERNESS NOIR: THE BLUFFS by Kyle Perry/DEADMAN’S TRACK by Sarah Barrie
The Tasmanian wilderness is quickly becoming the new hot location for Australian crime fiction, with these two good books by Kyle Perry and Sarah Barrie and Jane Harper’s new novel, The Survivors, which is due out in September.
Kyle Perry’s The Bluffs marks the debut of a writer who I think is going to become a major figure in Australian crime fiction. This richly textured and well written novel is set in the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers. It opens with the disappearance of a group of teenage girls whilst on a school camp. They were last seen by their teacher Eliza Ellis, who was knocked unconscious and now only has fleeting memories of what happened. As search parties scour the rugged and often impassable terrain, locals are quick to see similarities between the latest tragedy and the disappearance of another group of girls twenty five years ago. An event that gave rise to the legend of ‘the Hungry Man’ that still haunts the region:
“Up in the hills he hides and kills.
Down in the caves, he hides and waits.
The Hungry Man, who likes little girls,
with their pretty faces and pretty curls.”
The story is told through the alternating viewpoint of Eliza; Detective Con Badenhorst, a former Sydney detective still suffering from the trauma of his last case; and the local drug dealer, Murphy, whose daughter is one of those missing. There are also some early sections seen through the eyes of Murphy’s daughter, Jasmine.
As the search becomes more frantic, Con and his partner, Detective Sergeant Gabriella Pakinga, try to understand the background to the disappearance and uncover a tangled web of dysfunctional relationships, suspicious behaviours and a really unpleasant teenage girl who is a social media star.
Written with compelling insight into small town mentality and the power of social media, this is a very atmospheric and intense thriller. The story grabs your attention from the opening pages and keeps a strong hold on it as the book twists its way through some good surprises. The characters are well fleshed out and credible, and subtly change and grow as the book progresses. Perry, a youth worker by profession, introduces a number of interesting themes and issues into his story, and skillfully weaves them into the plot with out slowing the pace. Driven by Perry’s experience with disaffected youth and mental health issues, the book goes down some very dark paths before arriving at a very surprising ending.
I thoroughly enjoyed this well written book. I had some slight quibbles about how the police investigation was conducted, and the characterisation of one of the girls, but these were easy overlooked as I raced through the final fifty pages to the suspenseful conclusion.
Four and a half stars out of five!
Sarah Barrie’s Deadman’s Tracks may not have the depth of The Bluffs, but it is still a very fine novel that builds to a suspenseful and bloody conclusion in the rugged terrain of Central Tasmania.
Scarred by a recent tragedy on Federation Peak, wilderness guide Tess Atherton is reluctant to lead a group of young hikers on a dangerous winter trek through the Tasmanian wilderness. A series of events in Hobart, however, convince her to take on the job and she soon finds that the trek along the South Coast Track is even more dangerous than she expected when a killer begins to stalk them. Meanwhile Detective Senior Sergeant Jared Denham is trying to track down a deadly contract killer on the loose in Hobart.
The book gets off to a strong start with a well described set piece on Federation Peak and Sarah keeps the story moving along at a solid pace as the various strands of the story are put in place. She also makes good use of frequently shifting viewpoints to build the suspense and she keeps the reader on tenterhooks as the little group make their way into the wilderness. The various subplots add depth to story and Sarah, who started out as a rural romance author, adds a dash of romance to the action plot.
Deadman’s Track is linked to Sarah’s earlier suspense novels about the Atherton family of Calico Lodge, a farm and tourist resort in Tasmania’s lower Central Highlands, but can be easily read as a stand alone novel. As with the earlier novels, Sarah’s clear love of the Tasmanian outback shines through on every page and her evocative descriptions of the wild countryside adds to the enjoyment of the book.
Although it takes a little while for the trek to get underway, the novel builds to an exciting series of climaxes along the isolated track and the outcome will satisfy the many readers of her earlier books. A very enjoyable, winter read!
Four stars out of five!
Thanks to Harper Collins, Penguin Random House and the Canberra Weekly for advanced copies of the books. The Bluffs was released on 2 July 2020 and Deadman’s Tracks will be released on 8 July 2020.