Cutters End is a fictional town on the Stuart Highway, some 500 km north of Adelaide. We are told that back in the 1980s, it was a favoured stop for backpackers making their way to Alice Springs and further north. Two of those, Ingrid and Joanne, get their travel details and social lives confused in their determination to get to Cutters End in time for a fabled New Year's Eve party in 1989.
The story now moves forward to the current day and we learn that a television personality is making a fuss because she believes that the death of a man from Cutters End has not been properly investigated. More than 30 years earlier, he had rescued her and her mother from a car sinking in a torrent. Senior Sergeant Mark Ariti is given temporary rank of Inspector and asked to go over all the details and police reports about that case.
It happens that Ariti had been in the same school and same class as Ingrid and Joanne in the fictional town of Booralama. His job now is to interview all the people mentioned in the original police reports, in the hope that they may reveal some detail that was overlooked the first time. The process is slow and tedious and where many writers would indicate some new insight early on in such humdrum work, our author here is in no hurry. In fact, it seems that the original investigation was thorough and the normal small-town gossip and conflicts were carefully noted, so the coroner verdict of accidental death was most likely correct.
The author carefully avoids the kinds of dramatic event or sudden insight often employed in police procedurals. What you read here is quite possibly closer to the boring, tedious job of detectives and investigators than one normally expects from these novels. Acting Inspector Ariti does not come across as a new Sam Spade or John Rebus: he is careful and methodical, but in no way flamboyant. His way of dealing with what he eventually finds out may not please the purists, but is quite acceptable against the background the author has given her characters.
The book suffers from the lack of a finicky proof-reader. There are numerous places where simple editing would remove reader annoyance. In one place, for example, we are told that Ariti had visited "Queensland, overseas the Murray not here". On the next line, we read that in these travels, "he past the backpackers place". At the very end, he is gets on a plane to carry him to an urgent meeting in Cutters End, but manages to drive back to Adelaide the following day.
These are minor criticisms of what is a satisfying read: pedantic on the part of the reviewer perhaps, but the author deserves better support for what is a commendable first novel.