Charlie Anderson works for the Department of Primary Industries in NSW as a Vet, a job that she is passionate about and one which leaves no time for her to dwell on the fractured and dysfunctional family life she left behind a long time ago … until she receives a phone call from her boss requesting her to investigate a possible outbreak of the Hendra Virus.
Much to her dismay, it is this outbreak that precipitates her return to her home town of Naringup – a place she thought she’d never visit again. Even more dismaying is the fact that the property where she is required to run tests belongs to the cousin she left behind a long time ago.
Her motto, “Come here, get the job done and get out”, begins to taunt her as her investigation of the property soon brings her into closer contact with Emma and then Hazel. To make matters worse, the investigation is extended and it's not long before all the reasons why she left come flooding back in vivid technicolor and she finds herself putting aside her own pain and hurt to help them.
Not only does she have to dig deep and deal with all of this on a personal level, she also has to contend with the animosity emanating from the townsfolk as her investigations into the virus continue.
When the sassy and sexy local Park Ranger, Joel Drummond begins to avail himself more frequently and offer more than just his assistance, he stirs up all kinds of feelings within Charlie and she slowly begins to wonder if she will ever be able to fully recover and reconcile herself to the past so that she can move on to her future.
Having never read a Pamela Cook novel before, I was looking forward to reading another new to me Australian author and Close to Home definitely did not disappoint.
Her easy writing style and excellent sense of place drew me in while her well-developed characters and sensitively handled storylines merged into a heart-warming and heartfelt story about family, forgiveness, healing the past and hoping for the future.
In the rendering of Charlie's character, it became quite obvious that Pamela writes "people" and I found myself really liking and connecting with her on a very personable level. She’s strong-willed, passionate, sensitive and compassionate which the narrative reveals through her interactions and dialogue. She’s also very troubled, having never really analysed the emotions and feelings she left in Naringup all those years ago in her haste to flee and make something of her life.
While Pamela makes her characters confront the tough social issue of domestic abuse, her own love for horses shines through Charlie as she explores and addresses the very real and deadly Hendra Virus which, since it was first isolated in 1994 in Hendra, Brisbane, has claimed the lives of 81 horses and 4 humans.
Through the medium of fiction, Pamela has given us not only a fully rendered view of the practices and procedures which the government is trying to put in place to extend their own knowledge of this dreadful disease but also a very sensitive glimpse of domestic violence and the manner in which its effects can reverberate through the years.
With rural fiction being one of my favourites and, having read a lot of them, I do believe that Pamela Cook is right up there with the rest of our Australian rural fiction writers who consistently raise the stakes by bringing us real and relatable stories with issues and environmental concerns that are current in our society.
She truly does write "Australian fiction with a country heart" and I cannot wait to read more by her.