Fleur McDonald has written nine books, very much centred around life in rural Australia and – as a farmer herself – it’s a world she knows well and one she captures brilliantly in her writing.
I’ve now read three of her romantic suspense novels, two featuring Detective Dave Burrows. It’s not at all necessary to have read others in the series as no backstory / additional context is needed.
Suddenly One Summer
by Fleur McDonald
Series: Detective Dave Burrows
Published by Allen & Unwin AU
on November 1st 2017
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 1760293954, 9781760293956
When Brianna Donahue was three years old, her mother mysteriously disappeared while farming in Merriwell Bay, Western Australia. Committed to the family's farm, Brianna works the same land with her father, while raising her two children as her husband works as a fly-in fly-out lawyer in Perth. One scorching summer's morning, her son Trent goes missing and, while frantically searching for him, Brianna must come to terms with the fact that her marriage has large cracks in it.
Over two thousand kilometres away in South Australia, Detective Burrows receives a phone call reporting stolen sheep from an elderly farmer. It becomes clear that Guy has early signs of dementia and Dave becomes intrigued with his family history. Was there a child, or was there not? No one seems to know.
While trying to save her marriage and battling the threat of bushfires back in Merriwell Bay, Brianna is faced with challenges: her father's new girlfriend, who on the surface seems pleasant, seems to have a hidden agenda; Trent is having nightmares, triggered by his accident; and Beau, her youngest, is afraid to let her out of his sight.
So how will Dave's investigation impact Brianna's world?
I actually really liked Sapphire Falls, which is kinda / loosely the book before this one in the series. In fact, I read it just after Jane Harper’s The Dry and probably enjoyed McDonald’s novel more in terms of its plot and characters.
So, although I read Suddenly One Summer in a night, I finished the book a little unfulfilled. It wasn’t that it isn’t an interesting book. It is. I loved its characters – especially Brianna and her delightful boys (the Terrors). I also enjoyed the subplot around her marriage to Caleb and concerns about their lack of communication and separate lives.
But it was only the notion of possible bushfires that offered some menace (though not to the extent of Eliza Henry Jones’ Ache) in the background which wasn’t really otherwise there. For most of the book, it seemed the biggest dilemma was whether (or not) Brianna’s marriage would survive. And that would have been fine, but not what I was expecting.
There’s some vague disquiet over the bike accident 8yr old Trent has in Merriwell Bay – some memory he can’t quite access of events before he crashed his bike. It’s viewed by all as an accident (though I would have like to see it pursued more as further information seems to come as a bit of an afterthought).
The time between his absence being noticed and before being found is particularly difficult for Brianna and her father however, as it’s a reminder of the disappearance of her mother over 30 years before. There were rumours of unsavoury deeds at the time, but in many ways her disappearance has essentially been forgotten by most, and not seen as an unsolved mystery decades later.
And then there’s 70yr old Guy Wood in Barker who believes someone’s stealing his sheep. And then his wool. Dave and his offsider Jack are investigating Guy’s claims but Dave gets sidetracked when he discovers that Guy may, or may not, have once had a sister who – if she existed at all – was kept a secret before also disappearing.
Interspersed with the two main plots and characters (Brianna and Dave) is a story about a woman who is found wandering the bush, with no idea who she is or where she’s from… a woman who senses she’s running from something or someone.
So, there are a lot of threads at play in this novel and – as I said – I loved the characters and their stories were all interesting ones. As usual McDonald does a great job at capturing life on the land and includes a lot of (presumably accurate!!!) detail about sheep farming and wool and touches on new technology, such as biosecurity; as well as economic and ethical dilemmas – the balance between farmers overstocking land to maximise financial gain and viewing themselves as custodians rather than owners of the land (for example).
I kept turning the pages, so I was obviously interested in the unfolding plot, but it occurred to me for most of the novel that there really wasn’t any mystery to be solved. Until there is. Kinda.
There are a couple of twists towards the end that bring everything together, which I enjoyed. I think my own disquiet resulted from the lack of tangible clues or details along the way; that we were kinda kept in the dark. (Which obviously doesn’t bode well for the control freak in me!)
McDonald offers consistently good books and I have no doubt her fans and readers, not to mention lovers of rural / outback fiction will adore this latest release.
Suddenly One Summer by Fleur McDonald will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin on 25 October 2017.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.