Mole Creek, James Dunbar

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Pete McAuslan is Vietnam Vet, and retired police officer, now holed up in the family's remote cabin near the small Tasmanian town of Mole Creek, writing his memoir. His grandson Xander is a Sydney based journalist, and they are close. So close that the shock of the death of Pete, and the suicide note found with him, is profound, and worrying.

Xander drops everything at home and heads for Tasmania, and the cabin where he spent so much of his life with both his grandfather, full of questions. Even before he's met at the airport by local police, and taken to the scene where his grandfather's laptop is missing and there's something not quite right about everything. Not that the police seem to care - they think it's a straightforward case of suicide despite Xander's doubts, the missing computer, and subsequent threats and searches of his hotel room and belongings. Nevertheless, Xander persists. He knew his grandfather, although he didn't know all there was to know about his time in Vietnam, and it turns out the past is where a lot of the answers lie.

The story shifts timeframes between Xander's search for the truth in the present, and his grandfather's service in Vietnam. Along the way there are links that surface between the two times and the two countries, although Xander really struggles to understand how the secrets he starts to uncover all fit together, and why the threat is becoming more and more personal. Along the way, the police involvement also starts to become a little on the "odd" side.

Author James Dunbar is a journalist, television scriptwriter and travel writer, amongst other things, and there are clearly aspects of that background all through this novel. His previous fictional works (published under the pseudonym Jimmy Thomson) were caper novels - hugely good fun and quite madcap. MOLE CREEK, on the other hand, is his first foray into serious thriller and espionage territory, and whilst there are echoes of some of the pace, mysterious strangers, secrets and plot twists from the earlier novels, this is obviously a vastly different undertaking.

All of that has lead to a novel which is fast paced, with plenty of action, a sense of atmospheric place and a lot of intrigue and mystery, albeit slightly patchy in delivery. The scenes from Pete's past, back in Vietnam, are slow in progressing the story of what went on then, providing some context for the present, but perhaps not enough to make the threat seem ... immediately and completely plausible. The villains are evil, nasty, and profoundly threatening. Teetering on cartoonish unfortunately, which given the attempt at serious thriller territory, didn't land the punch they perhaps should have. Combine that with a lot of byways, subplots, people and events that were touched on, disappeared, sometimes returned, and this reader struggled to keep track of who / where / why with a sense of "what the" just a bit too often for absolute connection. All of which makes it sound like this wasn't a good story - which isn't accurate. The patches that were good, were really good, and the pace and action perfect within the context of a thriller. The mayhem had a very satisfying action series feel to it, with the trailer for the show forming as you flip the pages. If there's something here that intrigues though, readers will be able to power through the downsides, and, just as we all do for visual thrillers, happily ignore aspects of the ending that stretch credulity to snapping point.

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A hellish war. A deadly secret. Fifty years on, in a small Tasmanian town, the truth unfolds and the killing begins again …

Betrayal cannot be buried forever.

In the tiny Tasmanian town of Mole Creek, retired Australian cop and Vietnam veteran Pete McAuslan has retreated to his fishing cabin to write his memoirs. In Sydney, his grandson, journalist and trashy true crime author Xander, learns that Pete has taken his own life, begging forgiveness in a suicide note.

Arriving in Mole Creek in the aftermath of Pete’s death, Xander discovers that his grandfather’s laptop is missing. He begins to suspect that something is wrong, refusing to accept the facts as presented. With the local police not interested in investigating an apparently open-and-shut suicide, Xander sets about uncovering the truth of what happened to his grandfather.

In the process, he discovers long-buried secrets from Pete’s time serving in the Vietnam war: secrets that Pete has withheld from him and everyone else for fifty years; secrets that powerful people would prefer to stay buried. Ensnared in a web of betrayals that began a generation before, Xander finds himself on the hitlist of a clinically violent assassin. Now he must race to identify the connection between the seemingly unremarkable death of an old Australian soldier and the imminent reactivation of the most powerful and potentially destructive ‘sleeper’ in the history of espionage – before the truth catches up with him.

Review Mole Creek, James Dunbar
Karen Chisholm
Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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