THE HOUSEMATE by Sarah Bailey (Allen & Unwin)
Fans of cold case murder mysteries will greatly enjoy Sarah Bailey’s latest novel, The Housemate (Allen & Unwin,
31 August 2021).
Nine years ago the ‘Housemate Homicide’ drew national attention to a Melbourne suburb where three young female housemates lived in apparent happiness, until one was found murdered and another went missing. The third was accused of murder and went to jail. Now the missing housemate has turned up dead on a remote rural property and questions are being asked about what really happened.
Olive (Oli) Grove worked on the ‘Housemate Homicide’ as a junior reporter and became obsessed with the case. She also had a tangential connection to the police investigation, which has continued over the years. With the discovery of the missing housemate she is once again assigned to the story and becomes caught up in a dark web of secrets that bring up old traumas for her.
The Housemate is a really impressive mystery story that reminds me of Val McDermid’s early stand alone novels. As with those early books by McDermid, the dual timeline plot has depth and complexity, the characters are credible and interesting and running through the book is an undercurrent of darkness that gradually works its way to the surface. Like a magician, Sarah is very adept at distracting the reader with false leads, while she subtly builds up a plot that unleashes several good surprises and goes in unexpected directions. She has also created an engagingly complex character in the form of the troubled, but persistent, Oli Grove.
Woven into the story is a rich seam of issues around the media, policing and relationships, which gives a good texture to the story. She also explores the dynamic between Gen Y and Millennials, as she partners Oli with the precocious millennial podcaster Cooper Ng, who represents the new way of doing the news. The wrestle between the two over the virtues of traditional journalism versus the digital platforms and podcasts is interesting and adds a nice contemporary feel.
There some slow patches and repetition in the first half of the book, but there is always plenty of interest and the final third bristles with tension as the book races to an exciting and surprising conclusion. Sarah has already drawn considerable acclaim, and a Ned Kelly Award, for her trilogy of books about DS Gemma Woodstock, but I think that The Housemate represents another step up for her and is a very strong novel. 2021 has already produced some outstanding Australian crime novels and The Housemate is right up there with them
Four and a half stars out of five!
The Housemate is released in Australia on 31 August 2021 by Allen & Unwin.