The Liars by Petronella McGovern is the third book I’ve read by the Australian author and my favourite so far, which is probably more to do with the fact that the first two focused more around the parenting of young children whereas this felt like more of a ‘whodunnit’ and appealed more to my age bracket as I could relate to reflecting back on my younger self, thinking of my school days and the dreams I had. Roads taken or not… etcetera. Of course here there’s the added juxtaposition of the next generation on the cusp of similar life experiences and ready to make decisions about their futures.
by Petronella McGovern
Published by Allen & Unwin
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
The close-knit community of Kinton Bay is shocked when fifteen-year-old Siena Britton makes a grisly discovery in the national park. She believes it's a skull from the town's violent colonial past and posts a video which hits the news headlines.
Her parents, Meri and Rollo, aren't so sure. In 1998, their classmate went missing after a party in the Killing Cave. They're horrified to discover the destructive teenage parties are still happening, and Siena was there last weekend.
While Meri is trying to keep her daughter out of trouble, she doesn't realise her son, Taj, has his own problems. And none of them foresees the danger that Siena's actions will create for the whole family.
As more secrets are exposed, the police investigate whether multiple murders have been committed. If so, by whom? And is the killer still living in Kinton Bay?
I liked the way McGovern introduces Meri and Rollo and their memories of their teenage years, while at the same time welcoming the next generation. There’s a strong sense of history repeating itself and not just in terms of teenage parties at the Killing Cave and disappearances, but also the prevalence of racism, sexism and harassment, and bullying. It’s hard not to reflect on the sins of the fathers (or mothers) as many of the key players, present during the disappearances of several young men in the 1990s, are still around.
We’re given a few narrators – predominantly Meri and daughter Siena, but also Rollo and city cop who’s moved and now settled into Kinton Bay, Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Poole. There’s also an anonymous narrator, who seems to be waiting for their crimes to be discovered and who could – of course – also be one of our lead characters.
On discovery of bones, Siena jumps to the conclusion that they’re those of original owners of the land – First Nations people who suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of arriving sailors and former convicts. She’s passionate about highlighting the brutal history of the town’s founders and the ‘whitewashed’ history the town prides itself on.
This focus was occasionally perhaps a bit heavy-handed. And it’s surprising that I think that given I work in a First Nations program but I wondered if it – in part – was a reminder that sometimes belligerent and outspoken action, here in the form of 15yr old Siena, often makes things more volatile. In addition I like that McGovern offers some commentary on the ‘white saviour’ approach and a respected Elder and the grandmother of Siena’s friend, raises the question of whether it’s appropriate that young, white Siena be the face of the battle to have the true history of the town and its original inhabitants recognised.
Of course that commentary simmers alongside the remains found at the Killing Cave and investigation into their origin. McGovern includes several storylines here as past secrets come to light and it means readers are kept guessing. I liked where she takes this and there are certainly several twists, though am not entirely sure the very last one was required as it almost felt like it vindicated others, negating some of the book’s messaging.
As an aside I should mention that I appreciated the setting of the book, as Kinton Bay is visited by humpback whales on migration. Rollo has a whale watch boat and is respected by local rangers and environmentalists. I currently live in Hervey Bay in Queensland, also brimming with whales and whale watchers at the moment. McGovern also offers up a sense of eerie unease in the atmospheric setting of a treacherous coastline and dangerous caves.
The Liars by Petronella McGovern was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.