I saw Christian White speak at the Sydney BAD Crime Writers Festival in late 2019 after his debut book, The Nowhere Child was well received by critics and readers alike (not that I’m implying there’s no overlap between the two!). After hearing him talk about the appearance of snakes in the book I gave it a miss (as I’m quite phobic) but very much enjoyed his twisty second book, The Wife and the Widow.
It was only when I started reading promotional material for his latest release, Wild Place, that I discovered White also created the Netflix TV series Clickbait.
‘Does his creativity know no bounds?’ I wondered. I’m tempted to suggest he’s taken more than his fair share and others (*points at self*) would like to borrow some. Please and thank you.Wild Place
by Christian White
Published by Affirm Press
Source: Affirm Press
Genres: Crime Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
In the summer of 1989, a local teen goes missing from the idyllic suburb of Camp Hill in Australia. As rumours of Satanic rituals swirl, schoolteacher Tom Witter becomes convinced he holds the key to the disappearance. When the police won't listen, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of the missing girl's father and a local neighbourhood watch group.
But as dark secrets are revealed and consequences to past actions are faced, Tom learns that the only way out of the darkness is to walk deeper into it.
Tom’s obsession with the case means he’s an obvious suspect however he’s our primary narrator and there’s no indication he’s being dishonest as he tries to learn more about Tracie’s disappearance. There is however a whiff of something – the way he keeps remembering her gushing approach to him at the end of the school year… a sense of foreboding perhaps.
The police are fairly sure Tracie’s just run away (as there’s reference to her packing some clothes) but we also learn she believed she was being followed in the lead up to her disappearance.
I was at Uni at the time and I can’t remember whether concern about satanism was in fact a big deal in the late 1980s though perhaps it reflected the arrival of the era of goth-like dressers. From memory we called them ‘swampies’ but I can’t recall thinking they were devil worshippers. (It was more about superficial stuff like their taste in music and clothes and their hairstyles!)
Which of course could be the case here in Camp Hill. And at the heart of this novel is the question of whether there are sinister and macabre factors at play, or if something far more mundane behind Tracie’s disappearance.
White creates a great sense of place here. Not just in the desolate and eerie Wild Place but also in the suburban neighbourhood setting and I certainly was drawn into the politics and idiosyncrasies of the close-knit community.
There were a couple of confusing elements for me – and it’s likely that I missed something rather than them actually being gaps. The police for example are sure Tracie’s run away because clothes are missing, but I can’t recall reference to that later… her having clothes with her. Similarly I couldn’t quite get some of the timelines right in my mind when we learn more about Tom’s son Marty and his fallout with best friend and neighbour Sean (the accused devil-worshipper) and an obsession that continued into the present day.
And finally there’s some emphasis on the reasons for Tracie’s parents’ separation but I wasn’t sure this was pursued as I expected it would be.
That aside, this was well-paced and there are some fabulous twists at the end – most of which I did not see coming – and of course just when readers think the story of Tracie’s disappearance is closed, White drops another surprise in at the very end.
Wild Place by Christian White will be published in Australia by Affirm Press and now available.
I won an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.