ONE MISSING GIRL. NO SUSPECTS. A TOWN ABOUT TO IGNITE.
Quala, a North Queensland sugar town, the 1970s.
Barbara McClymont walks the cane fields searching for Janet, her sixteen-year-old daughter, who has been missing for weeks. The police have no leads. The people of Quala are divided by dread and distrust. But the sugar crush is underway and the cane must be burned.
Meanwhile, children dream of a malevolent presence, a schoolteacher yearns to escape, and history keeps returning to remind Quala that the past is always present.
As the smoke rises and tensions come to a head, the dark heart of Quala will be revealed, affecting the lives of all those who dwell beyond the cane.
Set in a Queensland sugar town in the 1970s, Maryrose Cuskelly’s rural crime The Cane centres around a missing teenage girl amongst cane fields. Weeks pass and with no real leads, townsfolk are growing nervous and anxiety is building. What happened to Janet? And could it happen to another young girl in the town, if they don’t catch the person responsible?
The 1972 disappearance of fourteen-year-old Marilyn Wallman in Mackay was the inspiration behind The Cane, as well as countless other unsolved teenage abductions that have occurred in small Australian towns.
“Carmel would have preferred to wear a cotton shift, but the pantsuit gives her a more professional look, more masculine too, which she knows translates to authority. At least Patterson hasn’t insisted she wear a uniform.”
Stylistically, we move between different perspectives in the novel. Each voice allows for a different perspective on the town, its inhabitants, its history, and its secrets.
Maryrose captures the racism and sexism of rural 1970s, largely through the attitudes from townsfolk when speaking with female constable Carmel Maitland, who arrives in town to investigate Janet’s disappearance.
A common thread in rural crime is a sense of mistrust between locals and the character tasked with solving the mystery. Often that investigator is an outsider, arriving into the fractured community and attempting to penetrate the close-knit community to find out long-held secrets or information that may solve the crime. In The Cane, whilst there are some characters willing to help Carmel, many of the townspeople have given up hope of finding out what happened to Janet, and they’re not too quick to trust that Carmel will be the one to uncover answers.
“Janet McClymont’s disappearance has brought back memories — not just for the Creadies, but for all of us locals. Except for the younger kids and a few of the blow-ins, all we could think about was the day Cathy Creadie went missing while swimming off Danger Point.”
Admittedly, I did find the pacing a little inconsistent in the novel. We spend a lot of time moving between past and present, and I feel like Carmel’s presence in the novel felt a bit thin. I even felt like the ending of the novel was a bit of luck for Carmel — she seemed to stumble upon the truth rather than deduce it entirely herself. There is a lot of description in the novel and I think more could’ve been captured in terms of characterisation and potential suspects. The cane fields, for example, were a big focus in the novel and I would’ve loved more attention to characters and their place in the town.
Additionally, there was a sub plot involving a male teacher that felt out of place in the novel. I’m not sure if his presence in the novel, and the suspicions raised about him, were supposed to act as a red herring in the story, but overall I felt his character didn’t seamlessly gel in the story. Other than that, I did find myself absorbed in the story and the mystery — this is certainly a genre I enjoy reading, and Maryrose has crafted an engaging rural thriller that will entice fans of the genre.
“What happens between bodies is dangerous, the contortions grotesque and strange. What she had caught a glimpse of in the barn was the least of it. When people speak about what might have happened to Janet, it leaves Essie with the same sick feeling.”
Recommended for readers of rural fiction — crime, mystery and thriller. This is Maryrose’s first foray into fiction after a string of non-fiction publications. Readership skews 25+
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Allen & Unwin Book Publishers