This book came as a bit of a surprise. I’d had an advance copy for a while but put it aside for closer to the publication date when the final version arrived and I read some publicity around it.
In some ways you’d think the whole ‘missing child’ thing had been done to death. Indeed the blurb refers to The Cry and I know I’ve read quite a lot of books about disappearing children, but this felt different. The parents were less obvious suspects, though certainly had their secrets, and there was other stuff going on behind the scenes, involving both the parents and those who last saw the missing girl.
by Petronella McGovern
Published by Allen & Unwin
on July 1st 2019
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
One Thursday morning, Lexie Parker dashes to the shop for biscuits, leaving Bella in the safe care of the other mums in the playgroup.
Six minutes later, Bella is gone.
Police and media descend on the tiny village of Merrigang on the edge of Canberra. Locals unite to search the dense bushland. But as the investigation continues, relationships start to fracture, online hate messages target Lexie, and the community is engulfed by fear.
Is Bella's disappearance connected to the angry protests at Parliament House? What secrets are the parents hiding? And why does a local teacher keep a photo of Bella in his lounge-room?
What happened in those six minutes and where is Bella?
The clock is ticking…
We’re introduced to Lexie and quickly able to recognise that she has some issues with anxiety. She’s upfront about it. Although she should be at ease at playgroup – relaxed in the informal surroundings with the other mothers and their kids- she’s tightly wound and internally verbalising all of her thoughts. I could certainly relate (see recent posts about me oversharing when anxious!).
She’s on edge then and a bit short with her beloved (almost 4yr old) Bella as they arrive at playgroup.
Her anxiety kicks in even further when she’s kinda forced to leave Bella there – albeit under the watchful eyes of the other mothers – while she goes to pick up biscuits for morning tea. They think nothing of it, but for Lexie it’s difficult so she knows EXACTLY how long she’s gone (counting the seconds as they pass).
Initially we spend most of the time with Lexie and her husband Marty. There’s reference to another child and it’s obvious there’s grief thickening the air between them and impacting on their relationship. They’re almost just pleasantly polite with each other, circling the other as if nervous for (and of) the other.
Marty makes reference to Lexie’s drinking. And there’s vague mention of Marty having been suspected of some sort of medical misconduct. Marty’s got an ex-wife and surly teenage daughter and Marty and Lexie have uprooted themselves and moved countries. Twice.
What I liked about this book is that – though fingers are pointed at the parents – the police don’t make any assumptions. They take the investigation seriously which allows us to learn more about the other mothers at playgroup and their lives.
As they’re in a small community we also briefly meet a few other players, including (of course) the police officers investigating Bella’s disappearance, along with a school teacher.
I lived in Canberra itself for a couple of years (and then visited for another couple when overseas on a posting) in the late 1990s. McGovern was very familiar with the Canberran way of life – Australian Federal Police Officers and their overseas postings, abundance of officer level military personnel and even the highly internationally-mobile type of life led by a police officer’s erstwhile girlfriend. It was very real and I felt a tad nostalgic re the familiarity of it all.
There are a few suspicious characters and I kinda suspected what might have happened but didn’t know why or how and so forth, but McGovern introduces a lot of threads that (unfortunately for the police) lead nowhere. It’s good for we readers though as there’s no shortage of leads and a hefty dose of secret-keeping. She also does a great job with the characters, who are relatable but complex and there’s a contemporary feel to the novel as she includes the use of social media (its evils and its benefits) and blogging… ie. the online world and our occasional cry for attention via that platform.
Ultimately I felt a sense of anticlimax at the end – as it seemed to be over with minimal fuss – though I obviously became engaged enough to affronted about the justification for what happens. (And obviously I can’t say more than that because that would give too much away.)
But this certainly kept me turning the pages long after I’d planned to put the book down so I read it in a sitting, surprised at how engrossed I’d become and – for the most part – seriously confused as to what might be at play or how we readers may have been fooled.
Six Minutes by Petronella McGovern was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin on 1 July 2019.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.