|Date Published||28 August 2014|
One Boy Missing
Detective Sergeant Bart Moy returns to his fading outback home town after the accidental death of his son and becomes involved with a child abduction and murder investigation while trying to work out his own problems.
Crumbling Guilderton is long past its heyday. Over-farming, drought, a fall in the price of wheat, a history of mayors with over-ambitious ideas, generations of farmers in stages of decline; this is a perfect desciption of redneck Australia. Stephen Orr’s superb writing draws you into this no hope, no future, town. Despite it being what hardened, action-loving readers would call a ‘soft’ story, there is no dishonesty – instead, plenty of humour as you would expect in an Aussie book and above all absolutely no manufactured sympathy or bathos.
It is an impressive piece of reportage. The feel of the town and its sense, or lack of it, of community, is beautifully rendered with the country agricultural show an absolute highlight. But Orr also explores the father-son relationship on different levels, the loss of a loved one, and the dwindling of independence with age.
Anti-hero detective Bart Moy has returned to his hometown, using the excuse of being near his cantankerous and ageing father – a real old-style Digger – as a crutch for his own inability to deal with a personal tragedy. A reported child kidnap draws him irretrievably into a case that recalls his own unresolvable past. When murder and possible child sexual abuse follows he gradually comes to realise that he must find the answers to save himself.
This is a philosophical tale of men’s relationships – with themselves, those they work with, their fathers, their sons and time and place, all set in a marginalised agricultural environment, a man’s world which offers little help and less hope.
In his fifth novel – why haven’t we heard of him before in the UK? – Orr gets everything right. Introspection is never overdone, time and place are stunningly portrayed and the pacing perfect – switching from an almost gentle amble through Guilderton’s dusty and hopeless streets to a violent climax.
To say more about the plot would be a spoiler for what is a genuinely literary crime novel. Read it yourself. You won’t be disappointed!
Reviewed 18 July 2015 by John Cleal