“When you tip over the first domino,” she said, “you can’t always control how the rest fall.”
Christian White has earned his reputation as a master of the hook, the twist(s), and the surprise ending; and it’s that reputation — nay, more of a guarantee — that compelled me to keep reading through the first hundred pages of his latest, “Wild Place,” which (by design) uncoils conventionally (albeit rapidly) as it establishes its vast array of characters.
It’s the summer of 1989, and 17-year-old Tracie Reed has gone missing from idealised Australian suburbia, Camp Hill. High School English teacher and father of two Tom Witter decides the police, nor the local neighbourhood watch, are doing enough to locate his former student, and so he starts investigating Tracie’s last known movements alongside her distraught father Owen. As they start asking questions of their neighbours and friends, the idyllic facade is ripped away, exposing a hidden darkness, where just about everyone has a secret.
White is the master of subterfuge; of hiding key details from his readers in order to shock them through a blitz of revelations in the final third. It’s manufactured suspense, but he’s damn good at it. The result is that those opening hundred pages or so, despite their breakneck pace, lack the explosiveness of what follows. It’s necessary, however, this brick-by-brick construction of the novel’s opening, in order for White to successfully raze everything he has built.
The myriad twists and turns as the drama ramps are handled beautifully. At times it felt like I was speeding down an alpine highway without brakes (and without a seat belt), breathlessly propelled one way, then thrust another. But White is always in control. He navigates this terrain with aplomb. He knows exactly what he is doing. He’s the king of the literary roller coaster, and “Wild Place” deserves its place in everyone’s beach bag this summer.
Number Of Pages: 384
Available: 26th October 2021