Death Leaves the Station, Alexander Thorpe
There's a really nice interpretation of classic golden age mystery styling at the heart of this lovely little novel set in the early white settlement period of rural, remote Western Australia.
Cleverly balanced between the personal story of Ana, the adopted daughter of the owners of Halfwell Station, and the search for a murder victim whose body she came across in the bush, late at night when reportedly star gazing, there's a lot of intrigue going on here. It's not just the nameless friar who appears at the Station at the time that Ana reports (to the friar initially and not her parents) discovering a man's body very near the homestead. Nor is it the obvious story behind a victim who was there (and left blood and some signs of a struggle at the location), but whose body has now disappeared. Nor is it just about the people charging around the bush on the same night, or the odd disappearance of Ana's birth parents, the strange circumstances of Ana's own life and her relationship with her adopted parents. You need to add to all of that Parkes, a very unusual investigating detective, a most unexpected police artist, and Cooper, the taciturn, and very able, Aboriginal tracker.
Of course, astute readers may be forgiven for wondering why a policeman investigating this odd occurrence would so willingly drag a young girl and a friar (identikit sketch of the man not withstanding) here and there on the investigative trail, but you'd be forgiven for really not caring about the little details that much, it just kind of works.
Mostly because the character development that occurs in such a short novel is strong, presenting the reader almost instantaneously with a great little band of intrepid investigators, travelling great distances by horse, foot, and train to try to identify the alleged victim, and then establish if he was a victim after all.
There's also plenty of opportunity, following the classic "golden age" type mystery tradition, for the reader to get on board with the mystery solving team, with lots of clues, some expected and not so predictable red herrings, and twists and turns, and a rollicking bit of storytelling along the way.
The historical setting for this novel feels just right, there's really strong character development and an excellent amount of intrigue and action, fitted nicely into a novel that's less than 200 pages in length. All of which was quite astounding given that this is also novelist Alexander Thorpe's debut novel. Here's hoping it's the start of many more.
A nameless friar turns up at Halfwell Station at the same time that Ana, the adopted daughter of the station owners, discovers a body in the desert during her midnight walk. But when Ana returns to look for it, the body is gone.
Death Leaves the Station brings the cosy country-house intrigue of crime fiction's golden age to the Australian wheatbelt, and was written for fans of classic mystery and crime fiction.