Nicola West's first novel is unlikely to have made her many friends in the lovely NSW town of Kiama which is depicted as a hotbed of murderous cultists.
Streets of the town, like Shoalhaven Street and Terralong Street are mentioned by name. The police come poorly out of the story also, as do the media and practitioners in the dark arts of psychiatry. The reader may be grumpy too, having been given a solution to the problems depicted, only to have it reversed some pages later and then reversed again, with a final reversal in an epilogue at the end.
The central character and first-person narrator is Marlowe Robertson, the 22-year old daughter of the local police chief. She discovers the dead body of her friend Lily at the conclusion of a carnival. She photographs the rough figures which had been carved into the flesh of the lower back of the victim. However, she is instructed by her father not to tell anyone about those marks.
As the story moves ahead, we learn that there is a cult operating among the important folk in Kiama. This involves dressing up in animal masks and the periodic killing of a child to the accompaniment of quotations from the Song of Solomon. The town seems comfortable with this situation, while the police just keep their noses out of it; the media bosses are also involved, so it is all kept hush-hush, a situation that still seems to be the case at the end. The reader is enticed to read on by the frequent twists, each one contradicting the previous one.
This is a very Australian book. It may receive complaints from non-native readers who wonder what a carny is or what is meant by a sentence like "I felt guilty for bailing on them".
There are unexplained references to someone named Milat and sentences like, "You look like a f...ing Irwin". Those dots are from the reviewer, not the author or her characters; she does, however, want to hide from us dangerous words like "f***ot and "queer". It is not clear whether the person who attracts those words is intended to be a hero or a villain, but he is certainly portrayed in an unattractive light.
The descriptive passages are well-written, and one feels that this could be the basis for a good novel. Much of the story is told in the form of dialogue, though there are places where a question is asked and the reader is unsure which of the characters is the speaker.
These and some of the other comments from a neutral reviewer are the kinds of things which an editor would be expected to deal with; where writers often compliment their editor, such a statement is absent here. If this reviewer was the editor, he would not want his name known either.
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