Thursday, October 29, 2020

Review of Crimson Lake by Candice Fox (2017, Penguin)

Ted Conkaffey’s life has been turned upside down. The last known person to see a girl at a bus stop before she was abducted and raped, he’s accused of the crime. The case is withdrawn halfway through the trial leaving him neither acquitted nor convicted, but his reputation and marriage in ruins. His lawyer drives him north from Sydney to the wetlands of Crimson Lake, near to Cairns, and introduces him to Amanda Pharrell, a private investigator who has served time for killing another girl when she was a teenager. With the local community and cops starting to make Ted’s life a misery, he throws himself into investigating the disappearance of a local celebrity author with his new partner. At the same time he starts to dig into Amanda’s past, convinced there was more to her case than what’s on the public record. He’s pretty much given up on trying to prove his own innocence; the question is whether he’ll be able to stay in Crimson Creek long enough to solve the cases he’s working on before the locals force him to leave.

Crimson Lake is the first in a private investigator series set near to Cairns in North East Australia, featuring ex-detective Ted Conkaffey, a man wrongly suspected of kidnapping and raping a teenage girl, and Amanda Pharrell, an ex-con, who served time for murdering a fellow teenager. Ted has fled north to try and rebuild his life, knowing that he’ll never be able to shake-off the accusation unless the real culprit is caught. Amanda is all sharp angles, awkward, brazen, and with her own way of doing things. They make an odd pairing, but their circumstances enable them to form a working relationship. Their first case together is to investigate the disappearance of a local author who has gained fame and fans for Christian fiction, but whose lifestyle is far removed from pastiche of Old and New Testament he writes. As they hunt for clues and track down leads, the local community start to harass Ted and the cops threaten him with the aim of moving him on. Then the media track him down. Relatively tense from the start, Fox slowly ramps up the tension to create a taunt psychological thriller that interweaves three cases – Ted’s abduction, Amanda’s murder, and the author’s disappearance. Although somewhat unsettling and uncomfortable at times, there is strong character development, a good sense of place, and a nicely crafted plot that propels the story along with some good hidden twists leading to an enthralling denouement. And I was certainly left with a desire to see how Ted and Amanda’s lives develop in the next book in the series.

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