WHERE THE DEAD GO by Sarah Bailey (Allen & Unwin, $29.99). Due out 5 August.
Australia is blessed at present with a growing band of really talented crime writers. From the old favourites like Michael Robotham and Garry Disher to exciting new comers such as Jane Harper, Dervla McTiernan and Chris Hammer, there is a wealth of talent across the whole spectrum of crime fiction writing. Another name you can add to that list is Sarah Bailey, whose Where The Dead Go is a really impressive police detective novel with a terrific central character in the form of DS Gemma Woodstock.
Sarah’s debut crime novel about Gemma Woodstock, The Dark Lake, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime novel and her follow-up book, Into The Night, was also published to much acclaim. Now with Where The Dead Go she completes her trilogy about Detective Woodstock.
Set four years after the events of Into The Night, Where The Dead Go finds Gemma accepting an urgent, short term posting to the small New South Wales coastal town of Fairhaven. A fifteen-year-old girl, Abbey, has gone missing after a late night party and a day later her boyfriend is found brutally murdered in his home. Is the missing girl another victim or the killer? When the local detective in charge of the case is badly injured in a car crash Gemma is asked to head up the investigation.
Following a personal tragedy, Gemma is keen to get away from her immediate problems and with her young son, Ben, in tow she heads to Fairhaven. Once there she has to deal with resentment from some of her new colleagues and as the investigations intensify past secrets come to the surface that threaten unrest in the town.
Where The Dead Go is a very well constructed crime novel that juxtaposes Gemma’s search for the missing girl and a killer, with her own search for a way through the personal problems besetting her and Ben. The mystery about the missing girl also reminds Gemma of another case she worked on where an error of judgement led to a tragic outcome and this causes her to question her thinking at times, which adds to the pressure. As the various elements come together, including the possible connection to an earlier missing person case and murder in the town, Bailey ratchets up the suspense and the book builds to a taut and bloody conclusion.
I really enjoyed Where The Dead Go. The local characters and the descriptions of Fairhaven ring true and the plot has some good twists and turns. Bailey is good at casting out red herrings and the identity of the killer is nicely hidden till the end. In the past Bailey has been accused of overburdening her books with too much personal detail about Gemma and her problems, but in Where The Dead Go she seems to have gotten the balance right. Despite the various issues in Gemma’s life, Bailey keeps the focus firmly on the police investigation and the book moves along at a good pace. The book is structured around the number of days since Abbey has gone missing and this adds to the immediacy of the story and the tension.
Bailey does not waste time on the pace-killing-flashbacks that have plagued many crime books of late and she keeps a firm hand on her story throughout. The vivid descriptions of the coastal town of Fairhaven are also well done and Where The Dead Go is a good addition to the growing number of Australian crime novels set in small rural towns, and will appeal to fans of Jane Harper. The only criticisms are minor. An odd incident early in the case seems out of place and keen readers of crime fiction will rightly identify this as a clue that will come back into play at some point, and the climax is slightly marred by the old cliche of the killer unnecessarily confessing all to the detective. But these are quibbles, and overall it is a terrific police mystery that will hopefully further lift Sarah Bailey’s profile. Highly recommended.
Although it is the third book in the series, it can easily be read on its own.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Where The Dead Go is released in Australia on 5 August for $29.99. It is available on Kindle in the United Kingdom on 1 August.
Thanks to Allen & Unwin and The Canberra Weekly for an advance copy of the book.