It’s hard not to use the word atmospheric when writing about this book. It’s certainly that and continues the fine tradition I’ve experienced recently with Tasmanian crime fiction and small-town noir.
Set in Tasmania’s winter this – I assume to be the first in a new series – offers readers a sense of bleak and dismal foreboding – in a good way – well-suited to the book’s dark storyline and some long-hidden sinister secrets.
The Great Divide
by L.J.M. Owen
Published by Echo Publishing
Source: Echo Publishing
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Crime Fiction
In the rural Tasmanian town of Dunton, the body of a former headmistress of a children’s home is discovered, revealing a tortured life and death.
Detective Jake Hunter, newly-arrived, searches for her killer among past residents of the home. He unearths pain, secrets and broken adults. Pushing aside memories of his own treacherous past, Jake focuses all his energy on the investigation.
Why are some of the children untraceable? What caused such damage among the survivors?
The identity of the murderer seems hidden from Jake by Dunton’s fog of prejudice and lies, until he is forced to confront not only the town’s history but his own nature…
Jake’s obviously on the run. Not from anything he’s done by all accounts, but he’s left his established life in Melbourne to move to Dunton to get away from recent events involving those around him.
We learn a bit more about them later in the book, but I do assume there’s more at stake than is revealed here – which is why I’m also assuming this is the first in a series.
In some ways Dunton (as a place) seems quite revolting and it’s obvious Jake is struggling to settle into his new hometown. Things change a little as the novel progresses and Owen does a great job at mirroring Jake’s reaction to the town and his living conditions to both the changing weather and plot progression.
I actually didn’t really suspect some of the wrong-doers initially so I think Owen does a great job at hiding their guilt as I didn’t get a sense of guile or menace from them. There’s a strong sense of ‘secrecy’ in the town but I also didn’t really feel as if the community as a whole was shutting out Jake and his investigation into ‘its’ past-deeds; which I liked, as the whole arrival of outsiders amidst small town conspiracy thing can be a bit clichéd.
His colleagues (boss, Senior Sergeant Kelly and offsider Murphy) are also hard to fathom; enigmas in some ways… affable one minute and overly helpful, but shutting Jake down the next, just as he’s getting somewhere. As a complete aside I found it confusing (for some reason) that the boss’s surname was Kelly given we meet his daughter (Evelyn) as every time Owen mentioned Kelly I kept thinking it was the therapist / counsellor daughter rather than her father. And on that note, that father / daughter relationship is a complex and slightly confusing one and I wasn’t sure I completely understood it.
The unfolding mystery of the murdered headmistress and the secrets of the ‘bad’ girls’ home is an interesting one. Far more complicated and nefarious than I’d imagined. In some ways it doesn’t seem feasible – that (what we discover) occurred – but I reminded myself that we’re in an isolated community where people mind their own business and take others on face value.
I liked Jake and suspect we’ll get more of a sense of his character in forthcoming novels. The reasons we’re offered here for him moving don’t seem sufficient as I gather his departure from his previous life was very sudden, so I look forward to more on his backstory. Owen does a great job with the setting here which, as I mentioned earlier, mirrored the unfolding secrets.
I must confess I’ve not heard of author LJM Owen before and discovered LJ has written an ‘Intermillennial’ Sleuth series featuring Dr Pimms, which required me to google Intermillenial. #spoileralert, I think it’s a term garnered by Owen for the series not (yet another) genre (or generation!) I’ve not heard of.
The Great Divide by LJM Owen will be published in Australia by Echo Publishing and available from 4 November 2019.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.