I’ve really been enjoying Sarah Bailey’s crime fiction series featuring Gemma Woodstock. The first novel, The Dark Lake was set in Gemma’s rural hometown of Smithson. The second (which I enjoyed more), Into The Night leapt forward a few years and was set in Melbourne.
And in this latest novel Gemma is on leave when she takes a case in Fairhaven, near Byron Bay. It’s another small Australian town but one characterised by beaches, tourists and caravan parks – offering up a quintessential Aussie coastal town, that’s a little different.
Where the Dead Go
by Sarah Bailey
Series: Gemma Woodstock #3
Published by Allen & Unwin
on August 5th 2019
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural
A fifteen-year-old girl has gone missing after a party in the middle of the night. The following morning her boyfriend is found brutally murdered in his home.
Was the girl responsible for the murder, or is she also a victim of the killer? But who would want two teenagers dead?
The aftermath of a personal tragedy finds police detective Gemma Woodstock in the coastal town of Fairhaven with her son Ben in tow. She has begged to be part of a murder investigation so she can bury herself in work rather than taking the time to grieve and figure out how to handle the next stage of her life - she now has serious family responsibilities she can no longer avoid. But Gemma also has ghosts she must lay to rest.
Gemma searches for answers, while navigating her son's grief and trying to overcome the hostility of her new colleagues. As the mystery deepens and old tensions and secrets come to light, Gemma is increasingly haunted by a similar missing persons case she worked on not long before. A case that ended in tragedy and made her question her instincts as a cop. Can she trust herself again?
As the blurb suggests, Gemma’s dealing with a loss as this book opens. Her world has (again) been upended and she’s trying to work out how to be a mother to 8yr old Ben and being haunted by a case in which she fears she ‘got it wrong’.
I’d initially (erroneously – I THINK!) assumed the case she reflects on was from the second novel in the series though it didn’t ‘feel’ familiar. However, Bailey actually shares more and more of that case with us in this novel and I realised it’s meant to provide context and backstory to the Fairhaven case(s).
Gemma’s actually far more assertive as a boss than I remembered her being in past novels. She takes to the leadership role in Fairhaven like the proverbial duck to water. (Or surfer to the waves, as the case may be here.)
She struggles a little with workplace personalities (and seems to get grumpier and snarkier than I remember her doing in the past) but the real issues weighing her down this time around are personal. And I think Bailey strikes a really good balance between the story arc around Gemma’s private life and the ‘whodunnit’.
I have to say (again) Bailey does an amazing job with Gemma. We’re in her head so we know everything she’s thinking and feeling and there’s no room for pretence, game-playing or error as she’s entirely believable. Like I said, I was a bit upset with her for being such a grumpy bitch a few times… as if I had some vested stake in her behaviour.
She’s probably also more vulnerable than I remember her being in the past here and I think Bailey gives us a really good picture of someone whose life has been upended (several times); someone who’s usually defiantly independent; but doesn’t have the answers and needs help. The fact she’s questioning decisions she made on the recent case of course complicate things here.
The mystery itself is an interesting one. Things are made messier by Gemma’s suspicion around the detective she’s replacing, others on her team and a case involving two teens from years before. I must confess so many people were keeping secrets it perhaps became a little convoluted and I struggled to follow the threads until near the climax.
As always, Bailey’s writing is strong. It’s easy and eloquent and, along with the pace of the plot, hooks we readers from the start. I also must mention Ben, Gemma’s son and Mac – her colleague and lover – both of whom offer up a great contrast and – in many ways – force Gemma to confront the personal stuff more than she’d like. And I liked the camaraderie she showed towards a fellow female officer in Fairhaven – it didn’t smack of sentimentality, favouritism or patronisation, rather encouragement and the whole ‘women lifting other women’ thing.
Bailey ends this book at quite an interesting point in Gemma’s life and career, so I can’t wait to see where she takes her (et al) next.
Where The Dead Go by Sarah Bailey will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and available from 6 August 2019.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.