With more twists and turns than an Archimedes screw, this whodunnit/whydunnit compels attention. Back from stressful times in the Middle East, journalist Martin goes to the small drought-stricken town of Riversend in the west of New South Wales to work up a piece 12 months after a clergyman accused of paedophilia went rogue and killed 5 men. The people Martin interviews fall into two distinct camps: those who believe in the allegations of abuse and those who don’t. The Reverend Byron Swift certainly seems to have been an enigmatic character: charismatic, genuinely pious, and a dedicated youth worker who nevertheless had some decidedly unChristian characteristics. He was a crack shooter of animals including sparrows. Martin discovers that the real Byron Swift died in Cambodia many years ago, so the first mystery is the real identity of the clergyman with military tendencies. But this is just the first of an extremely Gordian knot of interwoven puzzles that keep you compulsively reading. It’s not long before more crimes accrue, plus there’s a devastating bushfire that Martin and others barely survive.
The book is peopled with a wide range of interesting and eccentric characters, including the requisite single beautiful young mother who forms a complicated relationship with Martin, and several police types, including a spook - a man from ASIO, no less. Why should ASIO be interested? Martin gets the blame when the sergeant from a neighbouring town apparently commits suicide. His job goes up in smoke. One of the best things about this book is the inside running we get on how the media operate. A doyen of a commercial channel is wrong-footed. Schadenfreude! Like many books of this genre, we are privy to the investigators’ trains of thought which help us track the complicated developments in case we’ve forgotten anything. Suffice to say, it’s a rollicking good read, plus it gives an entirely accurate picture of drought in small, dying rural towns.
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