Crackenback by Lee Christine is the second book in the series featuring Sydney Homicide Squad Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read its predecessor, Charlotte Pass that introduces Ryder and his partner Detective Flowers, along with Ryder’s love interest Vanessa.
This book is centred around ski lodge manager Eva and her delightful three year old daughter Poppy. I must confess I couldn’t remember if we’d met them in Charlotte Pass, and though reference is made to the events of that book and Vanessa, we learn that Eva is her sister.
Which is a long way of saying, if you’ve read the first book in this series you’ll be a little familiar with Ryder and Flowers, but if you haven’t it doesn’t matter as – though Ryder’s in charge of the case here – he’s not really the central player.Crackenback
by Lee Christine
Published by Allen & Unwin AU
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Police Procedural, Romantic Suspense
Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder of the Sydney Homicide Squad is on the hunt for notorious fugitive Gavin Hutton.
After months of dead-ends, the breakthrough Ryder has been hoping for leads him back to the New South Wales Snowy Mountains on the trail of the suspected killer.
Meanwhile, when an injured man bursts into the remote Thredbo lodge managed by Eva Bell, her first instinct is to protect her daughter, Poppy. The terrifying arrival of Jack Walker turns Eva's world upside down as the consequences of Jack's presence become clear.
With a killer on the loose, Jack Walker and Ryder are tangled in the same treacherous web - spun across the perilously beautiful Crackenback Range.
I really liked Eva and Poppy. And of course there’s Jack. I mentioned in my review of the first book Christine respects her readers’ intelligence and doesn’t game-play or draw-out the inevitable.
We learn there’s a killer on the loose at the time Eva gets a visitor from someone she hasn’t seen in years. And potentially afraid of. Christine could eke that out for ages until we’re finally relieved that they’re not the same person. But she doesn’t. Similarly she tells us quickly the reason Eva is ‘afraid’ isn’t because her visitor is dangerous in any way, but he’s Poppy’s father and so worried he’s there to take her. (Which doesn’t make sense given his ‘disinterest’ to date.)
So that’s out of the way quickly.
It seems Jack’s got a past Eva knows nothing about and is there because he believes her life, and that of Poppy’s, might be at risk.
Meanwhile, Ryder and his colleagues, including newcomer Detective Nerida Sterling (who I’m expecting her to play a bigger role next outing), are on the case but they believe the murders committed by Hutton are random. They don’t see any connection at all. Of course they don’t know what Jack knows.
Jack refuses to seek police help believing he’s best placed to defend the woman he knew briefly four years earlier (and his daughter). There’s an obvious attraction between Jack and Eva but I would have liked more about their earlier ‘relationship’. There’s an early mention, for example, of events that took place on a boat so I assumed Jack had been involved somehow and saved Eva and in playing White Knight they hooked up. I actually think that would have worked better. Instead we’re only offered a snippet of why Eva left her previous world (as a chef on luxury yachts) and learn the pair met at the snowfields.
There’s a sense of menace here as we know Hutton will strike. And we know that – despite Jack’s best efforts to secure them – it’s likely he’ll get past Jack or into the house and their lives will be at risk. And it’s probably equally obvious that Ryder and his team will become involved at the eleventh hour and a grudging respect will develop between Jack and Ryder despite Jack not bringing the police in earlier. Whether of course Hutton draws any blood in the meantime and whether he ultimately escapes we wait to learn.
Vengeful psychopaths aside, the thing I loved most about this book was the relationship between Eva, Poppy and Jack and the characters themselves.
Of course Ryder and his team are in the background, knowing nothing about Jack and his relationship with Hutton, but Christine times the investigation well as they (and therefore we) learn more about Hutton’s backstory and the ‘why’ at just the right time.
Crackenback is another enjoyable instalment in this series and I’m looking forward to the next.
Crackenback by Lee Christine will be published by Allen & Unwin on 1 February 2021.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.