Wake, Shelley Burr
WAKE won the CWA Debut Dagger in 2019, and it's not at all hard to see why. Atmospheric and cleverly constructed, with a strong sense of place and realistic characters, WAKE has a plot that bring past trauma, grief, guilt and violence forward in a family, and community, to the consequences that play out in the present.
Mina McCreery was 9 when her twin sister Evelyn disappeared from the family farm in remote NSW. Nearly 20 years later, the fact that they never found any trace of her haunts Mina, who still lives on the farm.
Lane Holland is a private investigator who makes a living from the reward money in solving long-standing mysteries. Sounds creepy but he seems to be doing it for good reasons - a complicated family backstory of his own, he's now supporting his younger sister, who is starting university.
Both Mina and Lane want the mystery of Evelyn's disappearance solved, but for different reasons. These differing reasons mean that they don't get off to the best start. Not helped by Mina being so damaged from the fallout of her sister's disappearance that she's now almost a recluse. Her mother's manic search for answers led to a sort of notoriety for her, and she neglected Mina as a result. The outside judgement that came along with that has pushed Mina into wariness - of everyone and everything, so Lane arriving seems to her like yet another opportunist - in it for the cash, or the publicity. Whilst he works hard to gain her trust, she thinks she's thrown him off her trail by involving him in another missing child case, but the closer they get, the more there's obviously something that Lane's not revealing. Is there something that Mina's not telling as well?
Cases of missing children often become more about the family left behind, as is very much so in WAKE. The fracturing of family, differing reactions and ways of coping, the trauma and guilt are explored carefully here, as is the legacy of violence in Lane's own family. As is always the way in stories of this nature, the truth is multi-layered and multi-generational and the peeling back of all of that takes time, and causes ripples all over again.
Whilst sense of place is important in WAKE, it's focus is on character - with the damage done to both Lane, his sister and Mina by their families, their pasts and the effort of concealment or not knowing being palpable. What resolution is provided lands with an almighty thud, exactly reflecting the import of what happened - then and now. It was compelling, if not very discomforting reading - raw almost in places.
Flagged as rural noir because of it's setting, WAKE is also a thriller, come crime fiction, come exploration of damage, and another excellent example of the inevitable jarring that comes with the past colliding with the present at some force.
Mina McCreery's sister Evelyn disappeared nineteen years ago. Her life has been defined by the intense public interest in the case. Now an anxious and reclusive adult, she lives alone on her family's destocked sheep farm.
When Lane, a private investigator, approaches her with an offer to reinvestigate the case, she rejects him. The attention has had nothing but negative consequences for her and her family, and never brought them closer to an answer.
Lane wins her trust when his unconventional methods show promise, but he has his own motivations for wanting to solve the case, and his obsession with the answer will ultimately risk both their lives.
Superbly written, taut and compassionate, Wake looks at what can happen when people's private tragedies become public property, and the ripples of trauma that follow violent crimes. Wake won the CWA Debut Dagger in 2019.