Wild Place, Christian White
"Why do good people do bad things?" is an interesting question, explored fully in WILD PLACE by Christian White.
Set in the heart of Australian suburbia, during the height of the summer of 1989, seventeen year old Tracie Reed vanished one night. Her parents in the middle of a fraught divorce, Tracie's behaviour had changed in the leadup and despite her mother's protestations to the contrary, police have basically dismissed her as a runaway. Part of the local neighbourhood watch, Tracie's high school English teacher, and neighbour, starts digging into her disappearance, worried about his own two boys, quickly settling on his own idea of a suspect - the teenager next door, Sean Fryman. Sullen, reclusive, a bit weird, with a love of gothic clothing and heavy metal music, there's nothing like being different to mark you out as a potential suspect in anything dodgy.
Right from the very start of WILD PLACE there's a sense of "otherness" going on. In the middle of supposedly tranquil, ordered suburbia there's one of those little pockets of bushland that used to be common - the titular wild place, that Tom's own house backs onto. The place where kids played, teenagers gathered for illicit assignations or just simply to smoke and hang out and snakes lurked, access to these places is increasingly disappearing as nature is wiped away and built out. Once Tracie goes missing though, the Wild Place goes from somewhere innocent and mildly threatening, to something lurking, mysterious and frightening. Especially as far as Tom's concerned as he bans his young son from every going there, and takes to exploring the area himself, finding plenty of odd things to worry over.
As the story progresses it increasingly becomes obvious that the "wild place" is a convenient scapegoat, and there is plenty of oddity and danger lurking much closer - in the houses and the people of the suburb, many of whom seem to be hiding a lot of secrets. To say nothing of a spot of "Satanic Panic" very common in the 1980's in particular. Carefully letting the boundaries of possibilities slide outwards, the author takes the reader from a contained, acceptable threat - whatever is other and lurking in the wild place, to the wider area - and the people in it. The possibility that the threat is within the community, one of them, nothing "other" about it at all slowly reveals itself, leaving the reader disconcerted and baffled, until the epilogue at which point you'd be forgiven for taking a rather different look at everyone around you.
Having never been a child of the suburbs, and only briefly an adult in those places it's books like WILD PLACE that could make you look more fondly on the wide open, sparsely populated areas of our world. You know where you stand with a snake, but this novel could leave you wondering if you ever really know that about people.
In the summer of 1989, a local teen goes missing from the idyllic suburb of Camp Hill in Australia. As rumours of Satanic rituals swirl, schoolteacher Tom Witter becomes convinced he holds the key to the disappearance. When the police won't listen, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of the missing girl's father and a local neighbourhood watch group.
But as dark secrets are revealed and consequences to past actions are faced, Tom learns that the only way out of the darkness is to walk deeper into it. Wild Place peels back the layers of suburbia, exposing what s hidden underneath guilt, desperation, violence and attempts to answer the question: Why do good people do bad things?