The Newcomer by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

 ‘Just like grief, waiting had stages.’

On the Pacific Island of Fairfolk, Judy Novak waits for her daughter Paulina. They were to have lunch together. But twenty-nine-year-old Paulina never turns up. Judy is worried. Paulina, troubled and moody, has threatened to take her own life before. Where is she?

Paulina’s body is discovered. She was murdered. Why, and by whom?

As the investigation unfolds and the story moves between past and present, we learn more about Paulina and her move to Fairfolk Island. Paulina was looking for a fresh start but was unable to move out of her pattern of volatile relationships, fuelled by excessive alcohol and an eating disorder. When drunk, Paulina did not care who she offended, sober she could not always make amends. And, as she lurched from one crisis to the next, she managed to offend plenty of Fairfolk Islanders.

Dead or alive, Paulina is the centre of this novel. She is disruptive, self-destructive, utterly self-absorbed. But she should never have been murdered. Judy has some issues of her own to deal with, but she is determined to find out who killed Paulina and to ensure that she is not forgotten.

This novel made me uneasy as it captured and held my attention. While Paulina’s premature death (given her self-destructive behaviour) seemed almost inevitable, her murder was shocking. But it leads me into that uncomfortable space where sometimes the behaviour of the victim is scrutinised more closely than that of the murderer. And what about those left behind?

While I wanted to know who murdered Paulina, it was her life rather than her death that has stayed with me. And Judy’s struggle to understand and to try to find her own place in a world without Paulina. This is an uncomfortable novel to read. There are few likeable characters and no neat endings.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Scribe UK for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith