Review: Wake by Shelley Burr

This is a year of truly brilliant Australian crime fiction debuts, and Shelley Burr’s Wake ranks right among them. Not only is it clever, devious and morally complex, but its roller-coaster plot will keep you guessing until the final page.

The nuts and bolts of Wake will be familiar to any reader with an infinitesimal knowledge of the Australian crime genre. Once again, we are in a small, drought-ridden town. This time it’s Nannine, sparsely populated, infamous for the unsolved disappearance of Evelyn McCreery nineteen years ago, when she vanished from the bedroom she shared with her twin sister Mina.

Mina’s life was defined by that moment. Public interest has faded, but never extinguished: a still-active million dollar reward will do that. Conspiracy theorists conjecture her involvement; bloggers postulate over who was responsible, and whether Evelyn might still be alive today. To escape scrutiny, Mina has isolated herself on the family’s de-stocked sheep farm. Riddled by angst, she has become a loner, anchored to the scene of the crime.

When private investigator Lane Holland arrives in Nannine determined to close the case, Mina thinks he’s just another opportunist looking to cash-in. Never mind his previous successes: those were years ago, and Lane has been staying afloat through insurance jobs and dreck work. But Lane is strangely tenacious. Something else is driving him to determine the truth. Something dark, and twisted, that could very well result in the self-sabotage his own investigation.

Wake is seriously impressive. It’s got the page-turning compulsivity of Jane Harper, and the complexity of Chris Hammer: well-developed characters compliment its pace. It has unstoppable momentum that’ll keep you reading through the night, but is also layered with the cruel reality of living with trauma, and demonstrating how it manifests.

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