Lowbridge, Lucy Campbell
In 2018, Katherine Ashworth is struggling. The death of her daughter has precipitated a major falling apart, which she's self-medicating with sleeping pills and vodka. A move to the small town of her husband's childhood - Lowbridge - is the beginning of the fight for Katherine to regain a purpose to her life, and stop the self-destruction. That search for meaning, precipitated particularly by husband Jamie's threat to force her into rehab if she doesn't take immediate steps to straighten herself out, leads to a chance meeting at the local Historical Society, and her interest in the disappearance in 1987, of a 17 year old local girl Tess, who left the local shopping centre and simply vanished.
Despite the protestations in the blurb that it's taken an outsider to ask the right questions, the missing girl has not been far from many resident's minds, and the mystery about what happened to her, the subject of much ongoing gossip, and theorising.
There's a LOT going on in LOWBRIDGE, and some of it works better than other aspects, but overall, I came away from this novel with a sense of disappointment. The blurb promises much, in ground that's so furrowed now surely something good should be reliably sprouting. After all "small town, secrets, outsider stirs the pot" - done well, can give some sense of humanity, connection and reasons. Alas in this outing I got too many "what the" moments. Starting out with how long it took for anything much to happen, whilst there was a detailed exploration of just how broken Katherine was. Then suddenly we seemed to go from a profoundly damaged woman, addicted to pills and booze, to an engaged woman, interested in this old story in the blink of an eye, with no withdrawal symptoms or backsliding to speak of.
Once the narrative starts to tackle the old disappearance of Tess things get very convoluted with all sorts of "small town cliche's" given their moment in the sun. Fraught local politics, the stereotypical gender and class divides, suspicious locals lurking, people "who know something but aren't saying" and the lot. Turns out so many people know they know something, and so many others know that somebody else knows something, it's a minor miracle that somebody hadn't blurted the whole thing in the pub one night and everything had been done and dusted years ago. Especially as it was obviously heading towards an ending with little in the way of surprises or revelations. Unfortunately along the way the dialogue also didn't ring true and the amount of exposition did make me wonder if the author has some trust issues with readers.
On the upside, the switches between the two different timelines were clear and provided a good sense of time and place, particularly the 80's which were, well ... special ... in Australian country towns. In that context there is also a very clear feeling of how missing girls, or anyone that wasn't the football hero or the "good bloke", was mostly a bit on the unimportant side.
Where everybody knows everyone, how can somebody just disappear?
A missing girl. Decades of silence. A secret too big to bury.
1987: It’s late summer and a time of change when 17-year-old Tess Dawes leaves the local shopping centre in the sleepy town of Lowbridge and is never seen again.
Tess’s unsolved disappearance is never far from the town’s memory. There’s those who grew up with Tess, and never left. And those who know more than they’re saying…
It just takes an outsider to ask the right questions.
2018: Katherine Ashworth, shattered by the death of her daughter, moves to her husband’s hometown. Searching for a way to pick up the pieces of her life, she joins the local historical society and becomes obsessed with the three-decades-old mystery.
As Katherine digs into that summer of 1987, she stumbles upon the trail of a second girl who vanished when no one cared enough to see what was happening in plain sight.
Her trail could lead right to Katherine’s door.
In a town simmering with divisions and a cast of unforgettable characters, Lowbridge is a heart-wrenching mystery about the girls who are lost, the ones who are mourned and those who are forgotten.