This short, but very intense novel, takes place in Australia, in the second decade of the twentieth century, in the years just preceding the war to end all wars, World War I, and the years just afterwards. It is a murder mystery, infused with the supernatural. There are séances with visionaries, magic spells, amulets and spirits.
The author’s prose will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next. His descriptions of murder, the horrors of war and the ravages of disease, are gripping, but in a quiet rather than sensational way. His precise and careful choice of vocabulary makes each word and every sentence important and easily expands the stories development. It is never overbearing, and is by no means boring!
In 1909, 16 year old Quinn Walker is discovered with a knife in his hand, beside his 12 year old sister Sarah’s bloodied and abused body. When he runs, disappearing into the night, it is assumed by all, that he has murdered her. It was the general consensus, even of his father Nathaniel, and his uncle Robert Dalton, that their relationship was an unnaturally close one, which would not come to a good end. The town wants vengeance, but he does not return. It is assumed that he has been eaten by animals or fallen into the wrong hands. Did Quinn murder his sister?
In 1916, his mother, Mary, who had already assumed he was dead these past 7 years, receives a letter stating he is missing in action and presumed dead; she mourns his loss anew. She now knows he had escaped and had not been dead all these years. Her only other son had moved away, unable to stay where the tragedy had struck his family and left its indelible mark.
About three years later, during the great influenza epidemic, she is stricken and seriously ill. She is in quarantine. It is at this time, that Quinn reappears at her bedside. He has returned from the war with a facial disfigurement. Still, she recognizes him with shock, but wonders if he is real. Is he? He confesses to her that he did not kill his sister but does not tell her who did. Does she believe him? She says no one else will. Time has moved on and with it the story of the murder has grown and taken on a life of its own.
Quinn makes an unlikely friendship with a young girl, Sadie Fox, about 12 years old, who appears out of nowhere and saves his life. Sadie lives alone in a squalid cabin, hidden in the woods. Her father left, her mom has died and her brother has not returned from the war. Together, they form a family, filling in the gaps in each of their lives. Is he her missing brother and she his sister returned? Is Sarah’s spirit in Sadie or is Sadie simply her spirit returned to life? Is she a ghost? Is Sadie real or a figment of his imagination? Quinn is prone to nightmares and hallucinations. Are they both conjured up by each other because of their deep losses and loneliness? As the mystery resolves itself, the plot will twist and turn, always leaving you wondering.