LJM Owen, known previously for her archaeology-related Dr Pimms crime fiction (Olmec Obituary et al) has branched out into dark, contemporary crime with The Great Divide.
Set in the fictional small Tasmanian town of Dunton, The Great Divide follows Jake Hunter, a Melbourne policeman who’s taken a job in what he expects to be a quiet country town while he sorts through the fallout of a recent personal crisis.
Not a week into the job, the body of a woman is found, oddly mutilated, in a vineyard. She is the former headmistress of a now closed girls’ home and the more Hunter digs, the stranger things become.
Hunter’s investigation seems to be obstructed at every turn, by witnesses, the townspeople, potential suspects and even colleagues – though whether this is through ignorance, inexperience, incompetence or malevolence is murky for a good long time. Hunter’s own baggage and concerns also play their part.
Owen has painted a town with a creepy Stepford quality. It’s all surface good neighbours and small town community, but something rotten seethes underneath. Jake seems welcome enough, so is the whole town covering up something sinister, is it simply narrow thinking?
From casual, persistent misogyny to insular assumptions on who the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people are, the reader shares Jake’s frustration as he picks his way through a tangled fog of lies, prejudice and ugly truths.
Owen’s engaging style draws you into a world that is, in contrast, dark, complex and repellent. It’s a great step into the modern era for this writer, though I admit it makes me reluctant to visit small town Tassie!
Buy The Great Divide