The Shifting Landscape, Katherine Kovacic
The third book in the Alex Clayton Art Mystery series sees a shift of setting to the Western District of Victoria and one of those big pastoral leases that were such a part of the landscape down there. The title of the novel "The Shifting Landscape" is quite cleverly pitched referring as it does to the way that farming has changed in recent years, the way that succession creates issues for so many of those generational farming families, and the way that changing perceptions of the landscape are finally starting to come about.
Along with the main thread, that of the suspicious death of the MacMillan patriarch when Alex is visiting to assess the family's extensive art collection, there is a sub-thread through this novel referring to the imposition of pastoral leases on ancient indigenous lands. There is a revealing visit to areas in that location that are stunning and informative, explaining a lot more about Aboriginal society and land management than we were allowed to understand in years past. The tensions within the family about the future of the property and succession are cleverly pitched, something that many of us who grew up on family-owned properties have experienced, or seen close by.
As always, Alex is present at the scene due to her artistic expertise, and in this case, the cataloguing of an extensive collection has thrown up an astonishing find, but when that painting disappears, and then a toddler goes missing, along with Alex's much loved dog Hogarth, the threat starts to be targeted towards Alex as well. As always her colleague and best friend, art restorer John, is there to help, even as his own personal life lurches from drama to disaster.
A really strong series, it would be possible to read the three Alex Clayton novels out of sync if you're new to them, but really it would work better in order, to get a handle on Hogarth, John and Alex's background, and how they all fit together. THE SHIFTING LANDSCAPE takes them out of past familiar territory in and around the streets of Melbourne, and into the plains and rolling vista of Western Victoria, all of which felt spot on in the way it was depicted, and this reader was particularly pleased to have the indigenous aspect respectfully, but pointedly included. Good characters, believable mysteries, enough threat to keep you engaged, with a strong sense of place, this third novel serves as a timely reminder that this is good, solid, entertaining crime fiction, with an informative element built in.
Art dealer Alex Clayton travels to Victoria's Western District to value the MacMillan family's collection. At their historic sheep station, she finds an important and previously unknown colonial painting - and a family fraught with tension. There are arguments about the future of the property and its place in an ancient and highly significant indigenous landscape.
When the family patriarch dies under mysterious circumstances and the painting is stolen, Alex decides to leave; then a toddler disappears and Alex's faithful dog Hogarth goes missing. With fears rising for the safety of both child and hound, Alex and her nest friend John, who has been drawn into the mystery, join searchers scouring the countryside. But her attempts to unravel the MacMillan family secrets have put Alex in danger, and she's not the only one. Will the killer claim another victim? Or will the landscape reveal its mysteries to Alex in time?