There’s no shortage of small towns with deadly secrets in the thriving landscape of Australian crime fiction. The trope is perpetuated globally, obviously — hell, Jack Reacher wanders into a new one every year — but our geography, so wide and varied, is perfect fodder for writers of mystery fiction. That said, you’ve got to give your setting soul, and its population a heartbeat, for it to stand out; which is why Aoife Clifford’s “When We Fall” is so luminescent in a jam-packed field.
Walking along the beach in the coastal town of Merritt, visiting lawyer Alex Tillerson and her mother make a ghastly discovery connected to the death of an art teacher. The local cops — incompetent, or complicit? — deem it accidental, despite glaring irregularities at the crime scene, and Alex can’t let it go; particularly when a possible connection is established between this death and an unsolved murder from years ago.
If the set up is conventional — an outsider takes it upon herself to interrogate the town and expose its underbelly — Clifford’s confident narrative hands on the wheel makes “When We Fall” a standout. Insightful characterisations, even of minor figures, means Merritt and its townsfolk feel textured and alive; and Clifford plays with our assumptions, too. Characters initially pitched as stereotypes — the local cop with an ax to grind, for example — are developed beyond orthodox representations.
Clifford understands the mechanics of a good mystery: the plot is brilliantly intricate and twisty, and she ably ratchets the suspense in time for the pulse-pounding finale. But it’s the heart-piercing emotional revelations that make “When We Fall” memorable. We are as concerned for the soul and wellbeing of its protagonist as we are her untangling of the two murders.
Number Of Pages: 304
Publisher: Ultimo Press