Review: The Girl Remains by Katherine Firkin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Following on from her debut “Sticks and Stones,” Katherine Firkin reunites readers with Victorian Police Detective Emmett Corban as he reopens a twenty-two-year-old cold case when human bones are discovered on an isolated beach in the coastal town of Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula.

On the night of 22 September, 1998, three teenage girls — Gypsy, Scarlett and Cecilia — set off into the darkness, weaving their way through shrubbery, following a trail towards Blairgowrie’s notorious Koonya Ocean Beach: ‘a magnificent stretch of coastline, punctuated by towering sandstone rocks and crashing waves.’ Only two of the girls — Gypsy and Scarlett — returned. And for more than twenty years, the disappearance of Cecilia May has baffled detectives. It remains a mystery, waiting to be solved. 

Emmett Corban, his new partner Lanh Nguyen, and a cohort of investigators, are tasked with digging into now decades-old trauma and secrets. In doing so, they unravel a wickedly complex tapestry, which includes a registered sex offender who confessed to the murder despite having a rock-solid alibi; Gypsy and Scarlett’s sketchy recollections of what precisely happened that night; and a visitor to Blairgowrie who is determined to exact her own brand of justice.

“The Girl Remains” is an earnestly crafted police procedural. Firkin isn’t trying to put some magical spin on the conventional elements of the detective genre, which makes it catnip for armchair sleuths like myself. Her step-by-step description of procedural details, from reviewing old case files to reinterviewing suspects and witnesses, totally immerse readers in the investigation. And the sprinkling of personal dramas — including Emmett’s news-photographer wife, Cindy, gatecrashing the investigation — adds further spice. The purity of its unfurling, even as it criss-crosses between its expansive cast, makes it a pleasure to read.

Published: 4 May 2021
ISBN: 
9781761042621
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 368
RRP: $32.99

Review: Sticks and Stones by Katherine Firkin

9781760893026I’ve whined before about a distinct absence of “metropolitan cops” in this new age of Australian crime fiction. Los Angeles has Bosch. Edinburgh has Rebus. Quebec has Gamache. Galway has Reilly. New Orleans has Robicheaux. Once upon a time, Sydney had Cliff Hardy and Scobie Malone. Melbourne had Jack Irish. But the notion of the quintessential city detective seems to have faded. Australian crime fiction has turned its focus to our harsh landscape. Geography has become king. And used to great effect. But where are the stories that flip the coin, and tackle our big cities? Here’s one — Katherine Firkin’s debut, Sticks and Stones.

What begins as a routine investigation into the disappearance of a beloved mother quickly turns into the hunt for a merciless serial killer lead by Melbourne Detective Emmett Corban, head of the Missing Persons Unit. Corban’s unencumbered by the tropes of many series leads. He’s as clean-cut as they come, a dedicated husband and father, and a staunchly focused investigator, almost glowing with integrity. Presumably some kind of tragedy awaits him in future instalments. Cops in crime fiction never remain blindingly righteous for long. He’s kind of a blank canvas, at this point, this being his premiere, which works, because it means the pacy plot is the engine of the novel. And it certainly thrums.

Structurally Sticks and Stones reminds me of Harlan Coben and Cara Hunter; short, taut chapters, regular changes of perspective and flashbacks maintain its acceleration. It’s chockfull of thrills rather than chills. When there’s violence on the page it’s fleeting rather than gratuitous or stomach churning. Firkin’s objective seems to be to speed up the readers’ page-turn, make the experience as breathless and twisty as possible, rather than terrify and unnerve. She succeeds. Firkin knows her craft. A fine start for an exciting new series.

Published: 2 June 2020
ISBN: 9781760893026
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 400
RRP: $32.99