I feel like I must have missed something with this book, considering the almost universal praise it’s received! To me, everything about this book was fine. Not terrible, but not outstanding. Just fine. I read and watch a lot of crime drama so I guess I have fairly high standards? Don’t know! I did enjoy the way Harper created the vibe of a small country Aussie town though. I think that if you’re Aussie or have lived here for any length of time – whether you were born here or not – everyone, and I mean everyone, knows the danger of a live flame in the bush during fire season. Harper creates and draws upon our collective dread of the ‘dry’ really well and it felt real and convincing, as well as providing an eerie threatening backdrop for a set of pretty gruesome murders.
Overall though I didn’t really connect with either the characters or the mystery at the heart of the story. I think one of the key elements of excellent crime fiction is a complex and charismatic primary detective (or team of them): I don’t mean charismatic as in loud or bombastic (many of the most beloved detectives are introverted and depressed), but they need to draw the audience in, we need to be desperate for them to solve the case and also we need to root for them in their quest to sort out their own demons (a quest almost invariably undertaken by crime protagonists). Aaron Falk, the detective in this one, was fine – but that’s all I can really say about him: I wanted him to solve the case, but not desperately; I didn’t not care about the vague romance element or his uncertain past, but I wasn’t dazzled by any of the outcomes either. In fairness I didn’t pick the killer, which was cool. But I didn’t really feel any tension in the build up to the reveal. I didn’t find any of the side characters particularly memorable, except for Ellie, one of Falk’s childhood friends who died in mysterious circumstances as a teenager. But even that mystery, which is worked through somewhat in addition to the main series of murders, wasn’t particularly earth shattering. But I still read to the end… the writing is crisp and clear and the story well-structured, which propelled me through, even if I wasn’t particularly attached to the story’s outcome.
That said, clearly almost everyone else loves this book, so maybe don’t take my word for it!