Clarke by Holly Throsby

‘There’s more than one mystery in this town.’

Barney Clarke is renting a home in the regional Australian town of Clarke when, one morning in 1991, he is awoken by the police. They intend to search his backyard for the body of a missing woman. Six years earlier, Ginny Lawson disappeared.

In the house next door Leonie Wallace, and her nephew four-year-old Joe, are watching. Joe is keen to know what the police are doing while Leonie feels certain that her friend Ginny is buried in the yard. She never believed that Ginny had just disappeared.

But Ginny’s disappearance is only one of the mysteries of Clarke. Barney is married, but no longer lives with his wife. And what happened to Joe’s mother?

Ms Throsby takes us into a microcosm of community: Leonie’s neighbours and work colleagues are all interested in the police search. And Barney, whose life is disrupted by the search, remembers his wife Deb who can no longer bear to live with him and his son with whom he has no contact.

At the heart of this novel, which was in part inspired by the disappearance of Lynette Simms (Dawson) is a meditation on grief, on the impact trauma has on families. Joe is learning to live without his mother, Leonie is doing her best to care for him and Barney is trying to make sense of his own situation.

There’s a twist at the end which, while it ties several strands together, was a little too neat for me. And yet, life in regional towns can be like that: full of tragic coincidences.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith