The Slipping Place by Joanna Baker

‘What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?’

Veronica Cruickshank’s youngest son, Roland, is always the child she’s felt needed most protection. He’s always available to help a friend, even when that is not in his own best interests.  Veronica still lives in the family home in Hobart, her children grown and independent.  She’s not seen Roland for a while, but when she hears he’s back in Hobart helping an old school friend, Treen McShane, she tries to track him down.  But instead of finding Roland, Veronica can only find where he might have been.  She’s hearing about violence, about a small child being hurt.

Then Veronica receives a text message from Roland, asking her to go to a place known in the family as the Slipping Place, high on Mount Wellington.  Here Veronica finds Treen’s frozen body.  What has happened?

‘Roland was no fool, but he’d always been an idiot.’

Veronica tries to find out what has happened.  She’s concerned for Roland, and for the little boy orphaned by Treen’s death.  She knows that the police will also be looking for Roland.  Why is Roland not contacting his mother when he’s clearly in contact with her friend Lesley and her son Paul?

‘The strongest of our childhood memories are often flavoured with sugar.’

Ms Baker brings aspects of Tasmania to life in this novel: from the brooding presence of Mount Wellington/kunanyi which looms over Hobart, to the drive to Spring Beach through Bust Me Gall and Black Charlie’s Opening, I felt like I was there.  As for the story itself, while I wasn’t completely satisfied with some aspects, I admired the way in which Ms Baker drew the various strands together.  Believable?  Not entirely.  But by the end my focus had moved beyond Treen’s death, beyond the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ to Veronica’s determination to get to the truth of ‘who’.

I finished the book with mixed feelings.  While there are aspects of the story that didn’t work well for me, the setting and Veronica’s sense of loyalty and purpose kept me engaged.  And made me think, too, about just how far our perceptions are impacted by relationships and loyalties.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster (Australia) for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2018

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