Tania Chandler’s debut novel takes the reader into the underbelly of Melbourne in the ’90s. But in order to do so, she sets up a domestic thriller set in 2008.
Brigitte is married to policeman Sam and is the mother of twins, struggling to keep up appearances as a dutiful wife and mother. Sam fell in love with Brigitte while she recovered in hospital after a car accident fourteen years before and their relationship is on shaky ground. At the time he was also investigating the death of a smalltime music promoter. Brigitte may have been involved but crucial evidence went missing and the case was never solved. The appearance of Sam’s colleague Aiden, who is investigating the cold case, shakes things up even further. Brigitte, who claims not to remember anything about the accident, finds herself sliding back into addictive habits and connecting more and more with her shady past.
The second half of the book is the story of Brigitte’s past. This section is more interesting than the first, plunging the reader into the shadier side of life and the things Brigitte has to do to get by. It serves well to juxtapose the Brigitte of 1994 with her older self, and explore the life she is trying to bury with her domesticity.
Chandler is interested in exploring the way Brigitte has reinvented herself and how her past is always hovering in the background. However, while the pressure mounts for Brigitte, it does not translate well into narrative tension. This is partly due to the structure of the novel which does not reveal the event that Brigitte is trying to forget until close to the end of the novel. Brigitte, while an interesting character, unwittingly comes across almost as a classic femme fatal, seemingly desirable no matter what state she is in. None of the men she encounters and needs something from – money, freedom, companionship, security - both in the past and present sections of the novel can seem to resist her.
Please Don’t Leave Me Here is more of a character study than a thriller. Chandler builds a believable and interesting world and characters but there is not enough connection between Brigitte’s present and the long flashback section to generate any real tension. The investigation of the cold case happens mainly offscreen and its resolution is fairly week. Overall, however, Please Don’t Leave Me Here is an incredibly assured debut.