We only have to glance at the cover, of this thriller from award-winning and bestselling author J.P. Pomare, at the lone little girl walking between the trees, the sun rising behind her and a dark slash across her body, to be drawn in. Where is the clearing, and what happened to the child?
The child, Amy is raised in a cult in an isolated rural area of Australia, and describes the cruel and controlled life within its compound and violent acts of subjugation, by others and by her own hand.
The woman, Freya lives in an isolated rural bush area with her young son, fearful for his safety but also there are intimations of cruelty to this child and references to abuse of an older child.
As the link between girl and woman emerges, and Freya's young son disappears, the narrative focuses on Freya's search for him. Though Freya is clearly flawed, her desperation and determination to find her son draw the reader to trust her and search for answers with her. The motivations and connections between the characters are gradually revealed and masks are uncovered in the best tradition of a thriller. And even when we find who is hiding single-minded fanaticism, and everything should be resolved, the last page sounds a sinister note. Not all the masks have been peeled away. The threat remains.
Amy's naive and detached account of her life in the cult and Freya's paranoid description of a life lived in fear of discovery arouse a natural sympathy. But the references to violence are disturbing and make us question this sympathy. Violence can be a learned behaviour and childhood experiences can carry their influence through to adulthood. Freya describes herself as wearing a mask, as having a skin that allows her to look like everyone else and covers the damage underneath, the damage of a past in the thrall of the cult. In this story the reader is always asking who is to be trusted and who is telling the truth. I found myself musing on the psychological effect of childhood trauma on the adult and the difficulty of seeing past the surface layer of everyday behaviour to the darker motivations of the psyche.
I was absorbed by this engrossing and enthralling thriller, reading at pace to search for clues and untangle this cracker of a mystery.
Reviewer: Clare Lyon
Published by Hachette