If you like atmospheric murder mysteries mixed in with a little romance, history and village life, this is the book for you. The historical events are dated to prime ‘Agatha Christie time’, the mid thirties, but the location is updated for Australian sensibilities with the action taking place in a remote fishing community in Tasmania.
Pennicott is an experienced crime writer and it shows with the interwoven structure of the plot and the careful staging of information release. The present day story involves a mother and daughter moving back to an ancestral house where the mother’s grandmother was murdered in 1936. Alternating between the chapters of current day reaction and detection is the unfurling story of the past as recorded in a biography of the grandmother, Pearl Tatlow, a well-known children’s writer. This is an interesting device, primarily because there is plenty of potential for ‘unreliable narrator’ syndrome and dramatic irony, as the author (still living) was personally involved in events to the extent of eventually marrying Pearl’s widower.
The prose is relaxed-easy-reading and the descriptions of the setting are atmospheric and even charming. In terms of plausibility and authenticity, the author has clearly done her research, the only issue being, some facts are too obviously included in the story for the sake of showing it was done, drawing attention rather than subliminally building a picture of the time. As with many similar stories, most of the meaty characters and scenes tend to be in the back-story. This reader found the current day events a little forced and manufactured at times, with the relationships between the key female characters a little too jolly, and the dialogue occasionally succumbing to twee-ness. Likewise, I had trouble reconciling the current age of one of the characters with their unusual lifestyle and activities, but often, as with a middling Agatha Christie, these quibbles can be readily forgiven for steeping us in some romantic mystery and nostalgia.