With its gold-rush history long in the past, Stone Town has seen better days. And it’s now in the headlines for all the wrong reasons . . .
When three teenagers stumble upon a body in dense bushland one rainy Friday night, Senior Sergeant Mark Ariti’s hopes for a quiet posting in his old home town are shattered. The victim is Aidan Sleeth, a property developer, whose controversial plan to buy up local land means few are surprised he ended up dead.
However, his gruesome murder is overshadowed by a mystery consuming the entire nation: the disappearance of Detective Sergeant Natalie Whitsed.
Natalie had been investigating the celebrity wife of crime boss Tony ‘The Hook’ Scopelliti when she vanished. What did she uncover? Has it cost her her life? And why are the two Homicide detectives, sent from the city to run the Sleeth case, so obsessed with Natalie’s fate?
Following a late-night call from his former boss, Mark is sure of one thing: he’s now in the middle of a deadly game . . .
Margaret Hickey’s latest rural crime offering Stone Town reintroduces us to Senior Sergeant Mark Ariti, investigating the apparent murder of local property developer Aidan Sleeth in the secluded Stone Town, and the simultaneous kidnapping of Detective Sergeant Natalie Whitsed. It isn’t until Natalie’s car is located near Aidan’s residence that Mark starts to suspect the two crimes may be connected.
Once again, Margaret brings us an intriguing rural crime drama, navigating two crimes simultaneously and with ease. Interspersed throughout the book are italicised chapters written from Natalie’s perspective, designed to make sure that plotline doesn’t get lost amid the search for Aidan’s killer.
“Luke told them the story in a sad drawl: how he’d known Aidan from when he moved to Booralama from Warrnambool in Victoria two years ago. Followed a girl, she broke up with him, went off with some Fitter and Turner from Nhill. He got a job at Aidan’s real estate office in town, started playing footy for the seconds, liked the town, liked the job, liked Aidan well enough. Stayed.”
Mark’s past definitely had more real estate in Cutters End, but there isn’t as much of a need for his backstory in this one. With one murder victim and one missing police officer, there is enough material to fill the chapters and keep the reader turning the pages.
Stone Town manages the delicate balance between prose and dialogue – the dialogue is realistic, believable and authentic, and the prose quite descriptive and generous, particularly during chapter openings.
Themes explored in the book include family, community and service. There is quite clever foreshadowing in the opening couple of chapters, and the suspect pool is large enough to keep the reader guessing – I certainly didn’t correctly guess Aidan’s murderer.
“He didn’t run on Sundays. That was the weekly treat he granted himself, but still, he wished he could sleep in a little longer. The day would be stormy. Already, he could see the dark clouds gathering across the grey sky, wind whipping the tops of the gums in his yard. More rain was predicted. Flood warnings in place.”
This is another novel from Hickey with a strong small-town noir setting – Stone Town used to be an old gold mining town, which plays a role in the disappearance of Natalie Whitsed. Hickey writes setting with ease, capturing the vast, open landscape and that helpless feeling that a missing person could stay lost forever.
My only small gripe with the book was that some of the dialogue towards the end of the book – in the scenes where Mark confronted the perpetrator – felt a little caricature and over-the-top. Straight out of a movie scene and so on the page it didn’t quite feel natural.
“In the background, Mark could see that John had risen from his weed killing and was poking at something in the corner of the garden bed with his shoe. A tiny round thing was squirming in the dirt.”
Taut, gritty and pacey, Margaret Hickey’s Stone Town is recommended for readers of crime, mystery and thriller. Like most of the titles in this genre, you don’t need to read previous stories with this detective just to understand the present one. Readership skews 30+
Thank you to the publishing company for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Penguin Random House Publishers