Australian author Emma Viskic depicts a community well used to living with constant tension, disappointment and outright hostility. It’s a unforgiving world for sure, and we are reading of people who are not living their best lives by a long shot. The summer heat and the threat of bushfire are tangible creatures in AND FIRE CAME DOWN, adding another possibility of potential hurt for the residents who are already tense with the anticipation of more destruction and violence to come.
Lead character Caleb is adrift and somewhat frustrating; you want to take him out of harm’s way and set him on his feet back in Melbourne where is he is well clear of all that is going on in Resurrection Bay. There is no thin veneer of civility here; it’s all out there for all to see and the residents of the town need to negotiate their way around old hurts and hostilities, the alarmingly high crime rate and the worrying activities of the local drug trade that seem to be on the rise.
Reading this novel cold (as not having read the first book in the series), there was a bit of work involved in putting together the pieces that have led to such a shattered lead character; one who often leaves good sense behind and enters into more chaos perhaps in order to quash bad memories. It was easy to visualize and appreciate the dry bush setting, which was economically and precisely sketched, as were the residents of Resurrection Bay. What it difficult to find was someone to root for in this novel. These people simply aren’t that likable and the town itself is only making the most desultory of attempts to cope with what it is experiencing. We have a bit of snappy dialogue which is most welcome in this bleak novel; maybe a tad overdone on the Ocker overtones but who is to say what could be considered too much for a fictional Australian bush town.
Wondering what will happen to Caleb’s brother Ant (who provides the comic relief in this dark, bleak novel) is perhaps one of the most intriguing of the unresolved plot threads to anticipate and could be a good incentive for readers to pick up the next release in the series. The stage is well set and there is much more to discover about Caleb’s motivations and whether he can successfully pick himself up (again) and escape the demons from his past.
AND FIRE CAME DOWN is the sequel to the 2015 series starter, RESURRECTION BAY, which was awarded the 2016 Ned Kelly award for Best Debut Novel.