‘The legend said that if you didn’t see his face, he wouldn’t take you.’
The Great Western Tiers of Tasmania’s Central Highlands provide an atmospheric setting for this intriguing novel. A group of teenage girls from Limestone Creek go missing while on a school camp. The teacher accompanying the girls, Eliza Ellis, was knocked unconscious. When she is found, she has only limited memories of what happened, and she saw no-one. The community is concerned: twenty-five years earlier six girls went missing in that same area. Those disappearances gave rise to a legend, ‘The Hungry Man’:
‘Up in the hills he hides and kills.
Down in the caves, he hides and waits.
The Hungry Man, who likes little girls,
with their pretty faces and pretty curls.’
Detective Con Badenhorst is sent from Launceston to investigate. The local police have their own views about who might be responsible. Jasmine Murphy is one of the missing students, and her father (the town’s local drug dealer) becomes a suspect.
While one early chapter gives Jasmine’s viewpoint, before she disappears, the story unfolds through three alternating viewpoints: Eliza Ellis, Detective Con Badenhorst, and Jasmine’s father, Jordan Murphy.
How can Con Badenhorst determine what is rumour and what is truth? And in the meantime, the weather in the mountain bluffs hampers the search. The four missing girls were friends, but each of them had secrets.
‘Not knowing each other’s secrets is the only reason we can all be friends.’
Con Badenhorst hopes that the girls will turn up, that they are just missing. He has memories of a case he worked in Sydney, a case that still haunts him.
And then a body is found at the bottom of a cliff.
Eliza Ellis has issues of her own, as does Jordan Murphy. He keeps being implicated in the disappearance, and vigilantes (fuelled by the actions of one of the local police) are circling.
The sister of one of the missing girls, a social media star, keeps uploading posts on her YouTube site. These calculated and partisan posts further fuel both community and media frenzy.
‘Just a child. What a world we live in now, that a child with a camera can cause all of this carnage.’
What happened on the bluffs? And where are the other girls?
Mr Perry introduces several different issues into this novel including dysfunctional relationships, bullying, and the power of social media. He also touches on Tasmania’s uncomfortable past in relation to indigenous people. All this set in an insular community: judgemental and suspicious of outsiders.
I kept reading, keen to find out how it would end, trying to work out what had happened. While a couple of aspects of the police investigation raised my eyebrows, the story held my attention from beginning to end. An accomplished debut.