The attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 is the jumping off point for A Voice in the Night, the debut Australian crime thriller by Sarah Hawthorn. 9/11 was a global trauma, played out on live television, the consequences of which still resonate. The events of the day are told through the eyes of Lucie, a young Australian paralegal doing work experience at a New York firm. But she is also having an affair with Martin, one of her clients, who leaves her on that morning for a meeting and never returns. Before long she is being bundled out of his apartment before his wife arrives from Boston to settle his estate.
Twenty years later and Lucie has become a successful lawyer back in Australia. But following a messy divorce she moves to London to join a family law practice. Newly single and in a new city Lucie finds herself attached to two very different men – Jonathan, much younger than her and terribly shy, and Alan, a player with whom the only attraction seems to be purely physical. But then her world is turned upside down when she receives a message purporting to be from Martin, the lover who died twenty years before, together with small gifts that only he could know about. Lucie feels like she is being played by someone but also starts to investigate and finds that Martin may have had reasons to fake his death following September 11.
And as the work pressure increases and every connection becomes suspect Lucie’s life starts to unravel. And there are plenty of suspects. Aside from the possibility that Martin is, indeed, alive, and the aforementioned Jonathan and Alan there is her bitter ex-husband David, her inappropriate boss Charles, and the too good to be true Everett, who gets in touch on behalf of her old US firm, claiming to get a fellow intern from 2001. All of which builds to the requisite showdown which includes a lengthy villain’s exposition to explain all of the craziness, some violence and a well-used champagne bottle. An ending which Hawthorn then proceeds to top with an over-the-top coda.
A Voice in the Night is an interesting Australian crime fiction debut powered by a clever hook. That is: what if someone used the events of September 11 to drop off the radar? Hawthorn has a good understanding of her heroine, including her work ethic and troubles and her desire for connection. And she spins these two aspects together into what is, for the most part, a down-to-earth thriller. And while the solution will be picked by some readers, it is followed by a scene which sends the narrative over-the-top but at least may still hold the power of surprise.