Review - Wipptee, Jai Baidell
I used to keep count of "girl in a hat" (and man standing on a foggy street corner) book covers. But in this case, you know the sort of thing, book covers for rural / romance styled novels with girls looking off into the distance, over fields of golden (dry) grass, akubra style hat firmly on head. Not a sign of sun blemishes, squinting eyes, dry skin, chafed hands, bandaids, broken fingernails, bruised arms, or scratches from the hay bales. The hats are pretty well always devoid of signs of wear, tear and the sort of battering that comes from being trampled in stockyards... So needless to say I smiled a lot at this cover - straw hat this time / white long-sleeved t-shirt, not a blemish in sight. Just enough of a difference to hint something about WIPPTEE, a book which will be just the thing for fans of rural romance, looking for a little built in mystery and tension.
WIPPTEE is told from the perspective of Maddison Debranz, recently returned to Australia after five years away, looking to reunite with her estranged (nowhere to be found) husband. Returning to where it all started to go pear-shaped for Maddie and Daniel, she finds herself back in Rakali Springs, getting a very hostile reaction from all but the Brackton family who are surprisingly willing to give her a place to stay, a base to look for Daniel from, and a way of reconnecting with the area where their lives spiralled out of control.
Farming country, remote and sparsely populated, Maddie and Daniel were there originally to protest as animal rights campaigners, although illegal land-clearing is the cause of Grace Brackton's concerns. The Brackton family seem like a typical farming family, even with the elderly (and slipping) Grace as a campaigner now, but the more Maddie searches for her missing husband, and the closer to family matriarch Grace she gets, the murkier it all becomes.
The combination of romance and mystery is reasonably balanced here, although fans of swooning women and heartthrob blokes wandering about sans-shirt might be a bit disappointed. The romance here is more of the confused longing kind (especially with a loved, but missing husband for Maddie to process), the sort of possible relationship that looks doomed (and mistimed) from the start. The mystery elements - with the disappearance of Daniel, and the general upheaval in the area take a fair amount of the focus, and seeing all of that through Maddie's eyes, with a past that she's more than a bit wary of, coming back to haunt her, is an interesting viewpoint. Despite her best efforts, that past does appear in the present, and readers will find that that the clues, snippets and hints about Maddie's last five years, very slowly begin to form into a story about where she has been and what she's been doing. Despite some elements of that threat in the present feeling a little unconvincing, the way it's narrated by Maddie had a very realistic feel to it. What starts out feeling like a general reluctance to reveal too much, becomes part of imposed limitations she has in speaking out about where's she's been and what she's been doing.
Definitely one for fans of rural romance / mystery cross-over. There's mystery on a few fronts to keep readers guessing, with just a touch of romantic tension to keep fans of the genre satisfied as well, WIPPTEE is a standalone novel from an author with an extensive back catalogue of straight mystery, romance and tales of Australia.
A small town cosy mystery with a feisty enemies-to-lovers rural romance on the side.
A young woman wants a quiet life in a small country town, but her past crimes as an animal rights activist return to haunt her.
Maddison Debranz returns to her home in Wagga Wagga in Australia after five years away, desperate for a happily-ever-after future with her husband. But Daniel is missing and wanted by the police. Maddie follows a lead to Rakali Springs, the town where everything first went wrong for her and Daniel. She receives a hostile reception, but the Brackton family, Grace and her four sons, are willing to give her a place to stay.
It doesn’t take long for Maddie to discover that everyone has an agenda. Grace, the family matriarch, is determined to end destructive land clearing on neighbouring Wipptee farm at any cost. Matthew guards his secrets well, Liam is sleazy and unpredictable, and Travis wants only regular work for his earthmoving business. Worst of all, Constable Theo Brackton never misses a chance to accuse, criticise, and think the worst of her.
With her chances of solving the mystery of Daniel’s disappearance shrinking fast, Maddie's life is at risk when a deadly enemy looking for revenge tracks her down. But Maddie has more friends than she knows, and in moments of despair she can always think about the little rakali swimming in peaceful quiet waters.