East of Alice by Annie Seaton is the first book I’ve read by the Australian author, not realising she wrote thrillers and crime fiction (thinking she wrote rural romance). And I enjoyed this a lot. Particularly the quintessentially Australian setting. Though it’s a long time since I’ve been to Alice Springs, the organisation I work for has an office there and several projects outside of the town and – having been to the West Kimberley in West Australia this year a couple of times – I could imagine some of the landscape Seaton very vividly describes here.East of Alice
by Annie Seaton
Published by Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd
Source: Harlequin, Harper Collins
Genres: Crime Fiction
Gemma Hayden has returned to her hometown of Alice Springs for a new job as a primary school teacher. It's been six years since her family broke apart following the disappearance of her twin brother. And the scars still run deep.
Hard on the heels of her homecoming, Saul Pearce, the man she once loved, is reposted from Parks and Wildlife in Darwin back to Alice. When an old car wreck is uncovered, washed down the river to Ruby Gap, Saul investigates only to find that the wreck belonged to Ethan, Gemma's twin - and there's a coded note for her in the glovebox.
Joining forces, they trek through the rugged outback, piecing together clues that not only bring them to the attention of a criminal organisation, but lead them to uncover an even older puzzle ... One now lost to the history books.
I thought Seaton does a good job of transitioning the past – six years earlier when Gemma’s brother Ethan sets off travelling – to the present. Particularly in terms of the background she shares about the siblings and their respective relationships with their parents. It gives us some insight into Ethan as, from the moment we meet Gemma in the present, he’s been missing for six years.
We learn a bit about Ethan and his friends ‘Screw’ and Saul from Gemma’s memories and of Gemma’s brief but memorable relationship with Saul before he moved away. For reasons unknown my mind was jolted back to the movie Grease when we viewers learn that both Sandy and Danny (who met on holidays) are – in fact – at the same school and likely to meet… despite having said their goodbyes… and we (who know) await their reunion with bated breath.
Because we know Saul has also returned to Alice Springs and it’s fortuitous that he’s the one who stumbles across Ethan’s car, seemingly driven over a cliff and left to the elements since he went missing.
It’s probably pretty predictable that the miscommunication and judgements that separated the newly minted lovebirds years earlier will be resolved. I liked that Seaton doesn’t belabour the ‘will they won’t they?’ and takes a pragmatic approach with the pair having a conversation about their still-present feelings rather than indulge in game-playing.
Interspersed with the unfolding mystery of Ethan’s disappearance is the story – starting in 1886 – of Ethan and Gemma’s great-great grandfather, William, an Englishman who brought his new wife Rose to outback Australia (Ruby Gap very specifically) to settle and mine rubies. We learn of their story through very middle class Rose, who travels to Australia to follow the man she’s married, but doesn’t know particularly well. Seaton dips in and out of Rose and William’s story for much of the novel, though it felt like it ended quite abruptly (with a tragedy!). We then skip forward significant amounts of time, only receiving recaps and updates. Until then they were a significant part of the novel for me, but the change in focus meant I disengaged from their story and the ruby-mining legacy.
In the present Gemma and Saul quickly gather that Ethan, and perhaps Screw, were in the wrong place at the wrong time and stumbled across well-connected drug dealers. I didn’t get a clear picture of the illegal doings and it’s only now I realise that this is more about Saul and Gemma; Ethan’s disappearance being the predicating factor. (So not a traditional whodunnit – or even why – if you like.)
That being said, I was reminded how much I used to love romantic suspense and how little of it I read now.
I also enjoyed the couple of big twists Seaton threw in as well as her descriptive prose and her ability to firmly place we readers in the desolate and dangerous setting. This will certainly prove popular with lovers of outback or rural noir and romantic suspense.
East of Alice by Annie Seaton will be published by HQ Fiction (Harper Collins) in early November 2022.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.