Catch Us The Foxes, Nicola West
Before starting out, this review is going to contain possible SPOILERS. I'm finding it almost impossible to talk about CATCH US THE FOXES without them.
Flagged as Twin Peaks meets The Dry, this is also described as a deliciously dark and twisted tale that unravels a small town.
Voiced in the main by the central character - Marlowe 'Lo' Robertson, the novel starts out with her being introduced to a Sydney Opera House audience, about to speak about her best selling true crime book 'The Showgirl's Secret', the account of the tragic death of her friend in their small NSW town, around seven years before.
Lo was a 22 year old journalist intern at the local paper when she found Lily's body in the stables at the showground, on the night of the local show. The place is teeming with locals, and carnival workers, and Lily was the winner of that year's Showgirl contest. Lo was there to photograph her and write a special story for the newspaper, or so she thought. But Lily ran, obviously scared by something to do with the Ghost Train, captured for a fleeting moment by Lo's camera, not long before she was found dead. Strangely, in a sinister way, as opposed to a keeping vital evidence quiet way, Lo's father, the local police chief, is particularly concerned to make sure that Lo doesn't mention some symbols carved into Lily's back. But that's nothing compared to the shock she gets when, after being given Lily's journals, it appears that there were reasons some of the towns most prominent citizens, including her own father, might have wanted Lily dead.
Long story short, we're talking a very bizarre and nasty cult operating in this small town. Despite the fact that one of the local carnival workers is charged with Lily's murder, there's something threatening and very disturbing about the cult behaviour and Lo's determined to get to the bottom. Or is she?
Lo's voice is everything in this novel. It's well drawn too - starting out with her being funny, slightly odd, brave, and seemingly sure of her path. She was raised by her dad after the death of her mother, and there are lots of references back to that death, and the story around it. As with everything here though, nothing is really as it seems, and there's heaps of ambiguity, odd behaviour and slowly eroded trust, something that seems to matter more because of the smallness of the town. There's also a past history of bullying behaviour and homophobia and everything that you'd sadly expect from that timeframe and that sort of location. But there's also something edgy about Lo herself. There are suggestions she's suffering from PTSD, she muses she's some sort of psychopath, inwardly contemplates suicide at one point, she's never been quite right after the death of her mother. There are lots of hints that her narration may not be trustworthy, that she's not as "nice" or as "perfect" as she appears, it's subtle, clever at points, the author handles these aspects reasonably well.
There's also a very clever manipulation of place going on here as well - the use of a small town, externally pretty, a holiday location, that's controlling, dark, possibly corrupt. It's a town where insiders have plenty of things that they would prefer were kept private, covered-up.
Whilst many of the twists and turns in CATCH US THE FOXES really worked, some of them were considerably less convincing. There were so many stereotypes and cliches that it felt like checklist material. The creepy psychologist; the flamboyant gay man; the pushy journalist; the decidedly Stepford wives feel about many of the women, including Lily's own mother; aspects of the cult and their very weird rituals. It all sort of got a bit... over the top ...
Culminating in an ending to the novel that threw everything you could possibly have thought was coming out an unopened window, and you can see how it will create a bit of "will work for some readers / will drive others utterly bats" controversy. I'm really struggling with this ending - a while after finishing the novel, the more I think about it, the more conflicted I'm getting. I've got no problem at all with the idea that twists and turns can happen right up until the last minute when unreliable becomes downright nasty and everything comes down to something very base and venal but... I'm still not sure if it just didn't ring true, feasible, possible, or even vaguely likely; or did it feel less psychopath, more after-thought? Having said that, we're talking a plot that's all about a weird cult in a country town, dreadful things happening to young girls and people behaving badly, ridiculously, horribly everywhere you turn, so under those circumstances, why not a thumping great weird turn of events at the end.
CATCH US THE FOXES is one of those novels that I can't help thinking is going to have a very big, wide your mileage variation factor about it, and one I can't help thinking is going to make it onto bookclub lists in the not too distant future.
Some secrets you try to hide. Others you don’t dare let out … Twin Peaks meets The Dry in a deliciously dark and twisted tale that unravels a small town
Ambitious young journalist Marlowe ‘Lo’ Robertson would do anything to escape the suffocating confines of her small home town. While begrudgingly covering the annual show for the local paper, Lo is horrified to discover the mutilated corpse of Lily Williams, the reigning showgirl and Lo’s best friend. Seven strange symbols have been ruthlessly carved into Lily’s back. But when Lo reports her grisly find to the town’s police chief, he makes her promise not to tell anyone about the symbols. Lo obliges, though it’s not like she has much of a choice – after all, he is also her father.
When Lily’s murder makes headlines around the country and the town is invaded by the media, Lo seizes the opportunity to track down the killer and make a name for herself by breaking the biggest story of her life.
What Lo uncovers is that her sleepy home town has been harbouring a deadly secret, one so shocking that it will captivate the entire nation. Lo’s story will change the course of her life forever, but in a way she could never have dreamed of.