For Pity Sake Publishing, Australia, 2019
Dorothy Johnston will be in the Hall of Writers at Terror Australia Festival on Friday 1 November 10am to 4pm, Cygnet Town Hall, with publisher Jen McDonald and fellow For Pity Sake writer Sara Dowse (As the lonely fly, 2019).
Declared interest: Barbie Robinson, who wrote this blog, is the designer for the internals of this book.
The many fans of Dorothy Johnston’s sea-change mysteries will not be disappointed by this third novel. It’s atmospheric, a little bit creepy and strange, but as with its two predecessors, imbued with a sense of place – in this case, the small seaside town of Queenscliff Victoria, but it could, I guess, be any small seaside town. They have their secrets and silences.
There’s an immediate corpse – in line one, in fact, found in the cellar of the Royal Hotel. Chris Blackie, our series hero and town police constable, is uncomfortably without his side-kick, Anthea Merritt as the story starts but she rapidly returns from leave and this story is very much hers. As in the previous two novels in the series, the cops from the city throw their unpleasant weight around but their lack of local knowledge and complete inability to talk and listen to the people who hold the clues render them useless as investigators.
Elements of the supernatural and downright spooky are a dominant feature in this story, but largely red herrings as it turns out – the rumoured to be haunted Royal with its history of a suicide, spiritualism, Tarot card reading, communion with the dead. They twist and weave with lies and secrets to throw us off the scent as we pursue the real and present evil in this tale.
There is also an historical connection with Henry Handel Richardson (Ethel Florence), who lived briefly in Queenscliff through the researches of Gerard Hardy, our unfortunate corpse. He was an academic obsessed with the author and bent on communicating with her ghost.
Like Chris, we are somewhat overwhelmed by Hardy’s seedy present and the calculated viciousness of some of the other characters of this story. It is Anthea through her ‘homework’ with the Tarot cards who understands what is going on, saves the day and leads us to the truth, all while enduring a personal crisis.
Yes, I am partial, but it’s a great read – relatable, scary, contemporary stuff that you will not want to leave till the end.