Broken Bay, Margaret Hickey

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Mark Ariti is back in the third novel in this series, and for the first time, the setting moves from the bush to the seaside. On a short "break" away in the small fishing town of Broken Bay, on South Australia's Limestone Coast, he seems to be approaching it as less holiday, more purgatory. Ariti is not good at aimless, and is acutely aware he's really hiding from his personal life. His partner Rose is about to head overseas to a new job, and Ariti is stuck. Does he go with her to new horizons and adventures, or does he stay in Australia, near his two sons, remaining as a cop in the small town he grew up in, living in his family home?

Given this is the third novel there's a lot of backstory now to Ariti, which, as always is best if you know about, although really, Hickey is such a wonderful writer of place and scene, that there's more than enough to keep new readers engaged (and keen to go back to the start). In BROKEN BAY, Ariti finds himself pulled into an investigation when an experienced cave diver was trapped in a local sink hole. The recovery mission initially discovering, instead, the body of a long lost local woman. The story quickly becomes one of small town secrets and family tensions, with the sinkhole directly connected to two families in the area - the Doyles and the Sinclairs. One of whom is the family of the victim, although both are lifelong friends and neighbours as is the way in small communities, and their shared past must provide clues to the inexplicable tragedy, but it's going to take some effort to uncover.

Slow to build, the story reveals itself as Ariti follows his normal style of investigation which is to ask questions, build pictures, and find connections. As with all these novels there's a real feeling of cans being kicked down roads, a bit of squinting in the sun, and more than a whiff of long-held secrets. Broken Bay is also a long way away from anywhere, so most of the investigation team are incomers, which means that there's a lot to learn about the backstories over many years before it becomes obvious even what questions should be asked. Not helped by the murder of another woman in town during the investigation, and the discovery of a lot of inconsistencies about the death of the sinkhole victim's mother many years before.

As mentioned, Hickey's writing skill in setting scenes is very evident in BROKEN BAY. As a reader who has always had a thing about confined spaces, the descriptions of the sinkholes and the underground caves throughout the Limestone Coast were so vivid that they induced a distinctly queasy feeling. The small town politics, interactions and family connections were evoked perfectly against a picturesque fishing village, with limited tourism, unrealised / perhaps undesired potential for development and a history that has a lot of trauma, blame, and allegations around it. Whilst sense of place is very strong in all the books in this series, the development of the central character doesn't suffer. Sure he's another slightly tortured cop, with a fractured family, two sons he loves, and an ex-wife and her new partner he has had to learn to deal with. Living, as he does, in his family home, with the memory of his mother never far from his thoughts, he's a subdued, slightly withdrawn character who finds the idea of chasing a new love complicated, and very difficult. He says it's the draw of his sons, but it's also a fear of the new, a swerve away from commitment maybe, a definite doubt of his ability to want to be happy. In many ways a cliche, in many more, an exploration of a complicated man.

It's worth noting as well, Hickey has a new book, THE CREEPER, due out at the end of July 2024, which features a new character, and a new, Victorian high country setting. If starting out late in a series doesn't appeal, and you want a taste of what a talented writer with a real eye for place can do, then you should be able to drop into your local bookshop and pre-order a copy now. But really, the Mark Ariti series should be high on everyone's want to read / has been read asap lists.

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Old loyalties and decades-long feuds rise to the surface in this stunning crime novel, set in a spectacular Australian landscape known for its jagged cliffs and hidden caves.

Detective Sergeant Mark Ariti has taken a few days’ holiday in Broken Bay at precisely the wrong time. The small fishing town on South Australia’s Limestone Coast is now the scene of a terrible tragedy.

Renowned cave diver Mya Rennik has drowned while exploring a sinkhole on the land of wealthy farmer Frank Doyle. As the press descends, Mark’s boss orders him to stay put and assist the police operation.

But when they retrieve Mya's body, a whole new mystery is opened up, around the disappearance of a young local woman twenty years before . . .

Suddenly Mark is diving deep into the town’s history - and in particular the simmering rivalry between its two most prominent families, the Doyles and Sinclairs.

Then a murder takes place at the Sinclairs’ old home – and Mark is left wondering which is more dangerous: Broken Bay’s hidden subterranean world or the secretive town above it . . . 

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