Echo, Australia, 2019
LJM Owen is the Director of the Terror Australis Festival in Cygnet Tasmania and will appear at the festival between 1 and 3 November 2019.
LJ departs from her inter-millenial sleuth series to introduce us to a new hero, Jake Hunter, in a dark tale of decades of child abuse in a small fictitious Tasmanian town called Dunton.
Leaving his police job in Melbourne to escape a personal drama, Jake thinks his posting to Dunton will be a chance for a quiet time to regroup and consider his future, enjoy the peace and mind-space of the rural setting and do some rock climbing.
However, he is thrown immediately, in good crime fiction style, into a vile nest of lies, and evil. The murder of Ava O’Brien at the beginning of the story sets him on the trail of child abusers and viscous criminals, corruption and deceit and even touches of madness and religious extremism.
Ava was the head of the local girls’ home (referred to as a place for ‘bad girls’ by the locals, despite there being no evidence at all of bad behavior by the resident children. The home is in the grounds of the local manor owned by Mason Campbell who in his declining years maintains, even flaunts his arrogant and odious behaviour.
Gradually through his investigation of the murder and torture of Ava, Jake uncovers the harrowing stories of survivors of the home, especially but not only the crimes committed against women and girls
The book examines the wielding of power and the propensity of power to corrupt, as well as the propensity of the corrupt to seek and misuse power. Most, but not all, of the imbalance of power lies in the hands of male perpetrators, and there is a great deal of evil done by the more powerful, as well as evil allowed to be done by the silence of others.
As a study of a small town as a microcosm of society, this work by LJM Owen is powerful. Whilst the tale itself is dark, it is nevertheless a wonderful crime read, well written and fast moving.
The ‘good’ characters in the medical and criminal justice spheres are a particular relief and Jake is certainly a very likeable hero, of whom we would happily read more. That he does finally manage to commune with the mountains and pursue some rock climbing at the conclusion of his case is also a great relief for this reader.
This is a well-earned spell of peace and reflection.