Review Blog

Jul 17 2017

Wimmera by Mark Brandi

cover image

Hachette, 2017. ISBN 9780733638459
(Age: 16+) Recommended. The prologue to this story starts the mystery off - two young boys, after idling away time yabbying unsuccessfully in a country dam, explore into the bush further, and make an intriguing discovery. The story then moves to some years earlier and it is a different set of boys passing their summer holidays together - Ben and Fab are good mates, they enjoy each other's company, and the banter between them is easy and natural. But Fab doesn't have an easy life, he is picked on by the bullies at school taunting him for being a wog, and at home things are even worse when his father loses his temper and starts beating him up. Ben tries to protect Fab, standing beside him when he needs help in the schoolyard and even trying to take the blame for a cricket accident to deflect the wrath from Fab's father. The friendship and trust between them is real, the conversations are natural, and they fit easily together.
It sounds like one of many engaging stories of adolescent boys growing up in the Australian country. However this story goes to a darker place very quickly. There is a shocking young suicide next door, a sign that all is not as it seems. And when the grieving family moves out of that house, the new resident with the smart car becomes an object of curiosity for the boys - who is he? Is he a secret agent? The new neighbour, Ronnie, a tall muscular man, seems to take an interest in Ben, offering him the opportunity to make some money with odd jobs. He is friendly, he offers to help Ben, shares secrets with him, and builds up a gradual intimacy. But it is not the friendship of mates like Fab, it feels strange and Ben doesn't know how to handle it.
The way that Ronnie charms Ben's parents and gains their trust, and the description of the gradual grooming of Ben, provide insight into how a paedophile might work, revealing the very real quandary that a young unsuspecting teenager might find themselves in. What can Ben do about it, what will happen next? Can Fab help?
This book carried me along very quickly and I read it in almost one sitting captured by the tension of wanting to know how the boys handle the menace and what happens next. It is a dark story, but there are no ugly graphic details, the danger is merely suggested. We don't have to know the details to solve the mystery. The denouement makes sense; the descriptions of the relationships have an authenticity that makes one feel that if it is not a true story, it is coloured by real events, and is worth reading to gain an insight to how such things might happen. It left me pondering things afterwards - questions such as what makes a friendship, what is the dividing line between genuine closeness and closeness that is manipulative and exploitative? How do you know when to trust and when not to? Maybe it is just luck, and we could all use Fab's lucky rabbit's foot.
This won the 2016 UK Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger.
Helen Eddy

Editor's note: This is also available as an audiobook through Audible and iTunes.

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