Book review: Starting from Now by Fleur McDonald

Sunday, November 3, 2019 Permalink

I’m really enjoying this (interrelated) series by Fleur McDonald. It really doesn’t matter where you enter because each of the books works easily as a standalone. Detective Dave Burrows is the link between books, but each introduces new characters whose stories are central to the plot.

There’s usually a smidge of romance and a crime or two and they’re all set in rural or regional Australia. Given her own farming background, McDonald effortlessly conveys a real sense of the lives our characters lead and she always manages to reflect on topical issues. Here she touches on both new technology being introduced to farming communities as well as the inadvertent impact protestors can have on the animals / communities / subject matter they believe they’re protecting.

Book review: Starting from Now by Fleur McDonaldStarting From Now
by Fleur McDonald
Series: Detective Dave Burrows
Published by Allen & Unwin AU
on 01/11/2019
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 1760529281
Pages: 352

When twenty-five-year-old journalist, Zara Ellison receives her mother's ominous text message, Call me when you can, Zara knows it's not good news.

Two weeks later, Zara has left her much-loved city life to relocate to Barker, the sleepy country town in which she grew up. For Zara, family comes first.

But she needs to work too, and the town's police force is a rural journalist's best source of information. Meeting Detective Dave Burrows and Dave's second-in-charge, Senior Constable Jack Higgins, is a priority.

Amid her family's troubles, and reporting on farming accidents and violently clashing activists, Zara is shocked to witness Jack Higgins in a role she'd never have believed. How could he possibly justify this? And what was she going to do about it?

McDonald would have written this before some vegan protestors started invading and forming blockades around farms here in Australia earlier this year. Through the eyes of our lead Zara there’s a sense of futility of some of the work of protesters here; a frustration that many are jumping on bandwagons they know nothing about. She talks, for example, about the blow-ins versus the hard-core extremists committed to their causes.

There’s a balance though as McDonald (well, Zara) also considers sustainability of farming land and action against those treating animals cruelly. But the sense of frustration is evident (and certainly makes sense to me!).

This is a bit of a spoiler, but essentially Zara is forced to return home (just for a few months) to support her mother and brother, the latter diagnosed with cancer. Once she’s home he deteriorates rapidly. McDonald very deftly communicates Zara’s frustration that her brother won’t continue to fight and has ‘given up’, again balanced by his exhaustion after having ‘fought’ for so long. Similarly we get a sense of Zara and her mother’s feelings of helplessness and their desire to do ‘something’. And as the end nears, the pain and anguish they all share.

While home Zara gets briefly caught up in some suspicious activity involving drones flying over neighbouring farms and her investigations initially annoy both Dave and Jack.

Zara soon returns to her old life and continues to ponder on some anomalies around a case involving a death during protest activity when she comes across Jack who’s infiltrated a group of activists. Of course things take a slightly sinister turn…

I liked Zara, and McDonald continues to introduce engaging and enjoyable new characters throughout this interlinked series. They’re all very different yet all have stories to tell. The author’s own experience gives readers a true sense of ‘life on the land’ and the fragility of rural Australia and its communities. Similarly she conveys the robust sense of camaraderie and kindness despite their challenges.

I love that McDonald is actually intermingling new releases in this series with a decade or two earlier in the ‘young’ Dave Burrows series. Not only does it give us a good sense of the detective but it means there are regular new releases to look forward to!

Starting from Now by Fleur McDonald will be published in Australia by Allen and Unwin and available from 4 November 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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