UNFORGIVEN by Sarah Barrie (Harper Collins)
Sarah Barrie’s novels have tended to be at the upper end of the romantic suspense genre, although she showed with last year’s Deadman’s Track (2020) that she is also a very capable writer of outback thrillers. Now with Unforgiven (Harper Collins, 1 December 2021), she has headed in a totally new direction with a dark crime novel set on the suburban eastern coast of New South Wales.
Lexi Winter is a tough, street smart survivor of child abuse who uses her computer skills to track down and entrap local paedophiles, and bring them to some form of justice. When she breaks into the house of a particularly dangerous paedophile who is connected to the local police, she is merely after evidence to put him away, but instead she becomes caught up in his death.
Eighteen years ago Detective Rachael Langley gained fame as the cop who put the notorious child killer, known as the Spider, behind bars. Now a man claiming to be the real Spider is emulating his murderous acts and Rachael is determined to catch him before too many more children die. Lexi, who suffered abuse at the hands of the Spider, is certain that the police got the right man the first time, but she is reluctantly drawn into Rachael’s current investigation despite having her own secrets to hide.
Unforgiven is a tough unflinching crime novel that is a significant step up for Sarah. The plotting is taut and interesting and the characters are gritty and real. Rachael and Lexi are well fleshed central characters with a good mixture of strengths and flaws, and they are well supported by an interesting cast of minor characters, particularly Lexi’s unpredictable neighbour Dawny and Rachael’s very believable offsider, Detective Senior Sergeant Finn Carson.
The story moves along at a good pace and Sarah is very adroit at capturing the politics and tension of a police investigation. There are neat twists and turns to the story, as well as some good flashes of violence. The book builds to a well choreographed conclusion and there are enough surprises to keep crime aficionados happy.
I thought that the writing was stronger than in Sarah’s earlier books and certainly there is more credibility to the various relationships. There is a new earthiness, which is appealing, and she leavens out the horror of the central plot line with some touches of humour, mainly provided by the irresistible Dawny.
There are a couple of minor stretches of credibility, but not enough to detract from what is a very enjoyable crime novel. Four to four and a half stars out of five!
Unforgiven was released by Harper Collins on 1 December 2021. Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.