Six Minutes by Petronella McGovern

‘HELP! My friend’s daughter is MISSING!’

On a Thursday morning in September, Lexie Parker takes her three-year-old daughter Bella to playgroup. It is still cool in Canberra in September, so Lexie insists on Bella having her jacket on.  It’s a bit of a struggle, because poor Bella has a plaster cast on a broken wrist.  Playgroup at Merrigang, a small village on Canberra’s southern fringe, is located near the local shops.

Lexie is one of five mums at the playgroup: Imogen, Julia, Mel and Tara are there with their children. When Lexie realises that the biscuits she bought can’t be used because they contain nuts, she dashes to the local shops to buy Tim Tams.  While initially reluctant to leave Bella, who is happy playing, Lexie realises that she’ll only be a couple of minutes.

Six minutes later, when Lexie returns, Bella was gone.  What has happened, and why? How could Bella negotiate a locked gate (Lexie is sure that it was locked when she returned) and why didn’t anyone see anything?

The police attend, and soon every available police officer, who can be spared from duty at Parliament House because of a rally, is there.  Detective Caruso is in charge.  After checking the scene, the surrounding area and obvious places, the search intensifies.  SES volunteers, civilian volunteers, the police and military personnel from Duntroon are all involved.

Lexie and her husband Dr Martin Parker (a paediatrician) are distraught.  And things are about to get a whole lot worse.  Intrusive media coverage, fuelled by social media commentary, soon introduces aspects of the past that the Parkers have kept secret.  Is this relevant?  Some certainly think so.

The novel is set over a period of five days, moves between the perspectives of several different characters, and introduces several plausible suspects.  There are quite a few twists and turns and a couple of red herrings.

I read the novel in one day (I couldn’t put it down without knowing how it would end) and, as various aspects of character’s pasts were revealed, I was kept guessing.  There is more than one mystery contained within these pages. Ms McGovern portrays a number of very different human ways in which members of the community responded to Bella’s disappearance: some helpful, some hateful, some judgemental.

I finished the novel late in the evening, feeling like I’d run an emotional marathon.

Recommended!

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2019

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