Review - Crimson Lake, Candice Fox
If two Ned Kelly Awards and one short-listing hasn't given you a big enough hint already, CRIMSON LAKE should absolutely confirm that Candice Fox is an Australian writer of immense ability.
Always on the darker side, Fox's books incorporate clever plots with strong characters. She has a particular ability to create unusual, unexpected partnerships, teaming up the unlikely, creating tension and unexpected affection and acceptance. It's that idea of acceptance of the fringe dweller's, of the flawed and the people who are rebuilding their lives where all her characters stand out.
None more so than Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell. CRIMSON LAKE does possibly concentrate slightly more on Conkaffey's story, weaving in Pharrell's own tragic back story more in the latter part of the book. Conkaffey was accused, and then released due to insufficient evidence, of the abduction and rape of a 13 year old girl. Pharrell was convicted and served time for the murder of a popular young teenage girl years ago. Needless to say an interesting pair for reasons that get better and better as the book goes on.
Not just intriguing, these are also a pair of believable and vividly drawn characters right from the moment they first hit the page (not just because Conkaffey rescues a poor Goose and her goslings). They both surround themselves with animals in need, they both have their peculiar quirks and traits, the both are struggling with the consequences of their circumstances. Whether or not they both feel guilty or not is very much left to the interpretation of the reader, and in Conkaffey's case, to a reporter who is pursuing him to the point of stalking.
The setting of a small north Queensland town in the far tropical north provides another closed room style scenario without belting you over the head and shoulders with it. It also provides the opportunity for Fox to explore the consequences of small communities dealing with external pressures, forces and changes that they don't ask for, and don't handle particularly well.
What brings both these people - and their pasts together, however - is a current day mystery. Pharrell runs her own private detective agency and Conkaffey is introduced to her just as a new case surfaces. A local celebrity author has gone missing, assumed dead with his wife seemingly more interested in the financial aspects of proving his death than anything else. Meanwhile a couple of local cops are doing an excellent line in bully boy behaviour that initially seems to be all about getting Conkaffey out of town, especially as Pharrell and he start to reveal some odd things about their investigation into the same case.
Fox always writes strong plots that sizzle along at a rapid rate of knots, never sacrificing character development or sense of place. In CRIMSON LAKE the lost nature of the places that Pharrell and Conkaffey find themselves in, with tropical weather, wildness, danger from lurking crocodiles and strange human behaviour, in a small town, outside the mainstream of life are the perfect foils for personal mood and situation. Conkaffey is more reflective and more tortured as you'd expect with a life destroyed by an allegation that he was never tried for - never declared guilty or innocent. Pharrell did time for the murder charge, and is brittle, fragile and decidedly eccentric.
While you're busily engaged in deciding whether or not it's okay to like two such seemingly dodgy characters; or if the author's son is as guilty as hell about something; his wife's up to anything at all; or the local cops are simply idiots; suddenly you'll find a lot of plot points merge together neatly into a completely coherent, tidy set of extremely satisfactory resolutions. Except for those that aren't and you really are going to want to know where Conkaffey and Pharrell go next.
12.46: Thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley stands alone at a bus stop
12.47: Ted Conkaffey parks his car beside her
12.52: The girl is missing . . .
Six minutes – that’s all it took to ruin Detective Ted Conkaffey’s life. Accused but not convicted of Claire’s abduction, he escapes north, to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake.
Amanda Pharrell knows what it’s like to be public enemy number one. Maybe it’s her murderous past that makes her so good as a private investigator, tracking lost souls in the wilderness. Her latest target, missing author Jake Scully, has a life more shrouded in secrets than her own – so she enlists help from the one person in town more hated than she is: Ted.
But the residents of Crimson Lake are watching the pair’s every move. And for Ted, a man already at breaking point, this town is offering no place to hide . . .