A novel by Lee Christine
Allen & Unwin $29.99
Reviewed by Jamie Lewis
Australians love the great outdoors, so it stands to reason that our serial killers would too. Lee Christine’s Crackenback, set in Australia’s Snowy Mountains, is the perfect backdrop for a white-knuckle thriller, where isolation and entrapment are played out against an enchanting and unforgiving landscape. Intrigue, deception, romance and a race against time make this story a gripping read from the start.
While preparing her isolated ski lodge for the upcoming snow season, single mother Eva Bell is brought face to face with her past when intruder Jack Walker bursts into her lodge. The desire to protect her toddler, Poppy, drives her to dig deep into her reserves of courage, trust and self-preservation.
Parallel to this story, Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder of the Sydney Homicide (yes the same detective from Christine’s previous Snowy Mountains thriller Charlotte Pass) is tracking wanted fugitive Gavin Hutton. When Pierce and his team uncover clues that Hutton is hiding in the Snowy Mountains, the two central storylines of this novel entwine. A battle of wits, survival and intuition unfold.
Lee Christine cleverly uses parallel narratives and flashbacks to weave a story that propels itself and the reader into a tension-charged world. She strategically keeps us a few steps ahead of the police, creating a palpable tension as the law struggle to keep up with the ever-evasive Gavin Hutton.
Christine’s understanding of Australia’s Snowy Mountains creates a chilling setting of isolation, where the vastness of the landscape is paralleled to the isolation of Eva’s deserted ski lodge. The use of weather and landscape skilfully creates a source of tension by physically cutting characters off from help and obscuring vision at crucial moments.
The characters are believable and engaging, and even the motives behind serial killer Gavin Hutton are explored to create empathy. The initially intimidating Jack Walker develops into a stoic yet flawed character who delivers a beautiful emotional core around which the entire story revolves. Romantic tension ripples through the chapters, adding resonance and empathy while never overpowering the characters’ motives.
Crackenback is a strong, multi-layered work of crime fiction with good lashings of Australiana, wit and enough tension to cause an emotional avalanche. Christine’s real genius is keeping the reader guessing as to the motives of the killer and why he is so interested in Eva, a woman he’s never met. If you like a compelling story, characters you can grow to love, and seeing a unique part of Australia painted in an amazing light, this book is most definitely worth a read.
Jamie Lewisis a content maker, storyteller and marketer based in Newcastle, Australia.