She’s Got Tasmania in the Back of Her Head*
This weekend, TerrorAustralis is hosting CSI: Tasmania Readers and Writers Festival. It’s an exciting event that will include all sorts of well-known and well-loved crime writers. Garry Disher, Candice Fox, Vanda Symon, Val McDermid, Cathy Ace, and Ann Cleeves are just a few of the many authors who’ll be featured at the festival.
It’s all got me thinking about Tasmania. It’s really not a big island; it’s about the same size as Sri Lanka, and just a big bigger than the U.S. state of West Virginia. Yet, for all that it’s not large, there’s plenty of (fictional, anyway) crime there.
Jock Serong’s Preservation includes an interesting look at Tasmania’s history. It’s 1797, and a ship called The Sydney Cove has wrecked near what is now Tasmania. Seventeen crew members survive the wreck and save what they can. They then decide to try to make the trip from Tasmania to Sydney (the ship’s original destination). They don’t have the materials or the time to build another boat, so they decide to go by land. By the time they get to Sydney, only three of them are still alive. Lieutenant Joshua Grayling is charged with finding out what happened to the others, and he begins by interviewing the three survivors. Gradually, as he pieces together the story, we learn what happened. It’s a sad and dark story that shows readers the dangers (and the customs) of that time and place.
Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood takes place in Hobart. In it, Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police Service is called to the scene of a home invasion. He takes probationer Lucy Howard with him, and the two arrive at the scene. Tragically, Howard is murdered during the investigation. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley. On the one hand, the police are very eager to arrest White’s killer as soon as possible. On the other, this is going to be a very delicate case that’s under intense media scrutiny. Darren is part Aboriginal, and not from a very good area of Hobart. So, the police must be as transparent as possible in order to avoid any appearance of racism or classism. As the novel goes on, we get to know the various members of the Tasmania Police Service, and we see they are all impacted by the death of one of their own.
In L.J.M. Owen’s The Great Divide, we are introduced to Detective Jake Hunter, who’s recently relocated to the small town of Dunston, Tasmania. When young Jamie Taylor goes missing, Hunter fears the worst. Thankfully, the boy is found safe, but he’s discovered the body of an old woman, Ava O’Brien. Now, Harper has a murder to investigate. It turns out that the victim used to run a home for ‘bad girls,’ and that may have played a role in her death. So might the fact that she wasn’t exactly popular with the people who lived nearby. Little by little, Hunter discovers that this town, and the home Ava O’Brien ran, has a history, and that there are some very dark secrets to discover. And some of the people Hunter interviews have their own pain and scars from the past; he’ll have to help them get beyond that if he’s to get to the truth. As the novel goes on, Hunter also has to face his own past, and decide what he’ll do with his future.
Jane Harper’s The Survivors takes place in Evelyn Bay, Tasmania. Kieran Elliot, his partner, Mia, and their baby, have come to Evelyn Bay to help Kieran’s parents move. His father, who has dementia, will be moved to a care home, and his mother wants to move to a place nearby the home. Kieran and Mia have mixed feelings about going back to their hometown. Over ten years earlier, Kieran’s brother Finn was killed in a boating accident, and Kieran can’t let the guilt go. Finn died in a boating accident while trying to rescue Kieran during a sudden storm. Mia’s best friend, Gabby, was also lost, although her body was never found. The storm and the tragedies that went with it are all brought back when the body of art student Bronte Laidler is found on the beach. Her death may be related to the earlier deaths and the town (and Kieran) will have to face the past to find out what happened to Bronte. But there are people who’d rather do anything than revisit the past.
And then there’s Kyle Perry’s The Bluffs, which takes place in the Great Western Tiers area of Tasmania. Legends have haunted the Limestone Creek area of the Tiers for a long time – legends about the Hungry Man who takes people away. There’s even a saying:
‘I won’t walk alone by the mountain trees or the Hungry Man will come for me.’
One day, a group of four teenagers goes missing, and their teacher, Eliza Ellis, is found unconscious. Everyone’s on the alert, and there’s, of course, a search for the students. It’s all eerily reminiscent of another, similar, disappearance decades earlier. And it’s all wrapped up, too, in local legends and myths about the Hungry Man. Police detective Con Badenhorst will have to sort out what really happened from the legends that are told. That won’t be easy, though, as he’ll have to penetrate local prejudice, corruption, and people’s secrets.
Tasmania is a beautiful place with lots to see. But if you look at crime fiction, you can see it’s not exactly safe. Little wonder it’s such a great place for a crime fiction readers and writers festival…
Ps Many thanks to Australia.com for the ‘photo of Tasmania!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Go-Betweens’ Lavender.