Australian crime writer Katherine Firkin has followed her Melbourne-based debut Sticks and Stones with The Girl Remains (an odd title that seems to just be part of a desire to work the word “Girl” into the title). The story takes her main investigator Emmett Corban not too far out of the city into the nearby Mornington Peninsula to reopen a twenty-year-old cold case that has suddenly become hot again. Australian crime fans in particular will recognise the location as the setting for Garry Disher’s procedural Challis and Destry series.
The book opens with three teenagers out at night and looking to play with the occult. But after taking some unidentified pills they are separated and one of them, Cecilia May, disappears. Twenty years later Cecilia’s bones are found on the cliffs behind one of the local beaches and the investigation into her disappearance is restarted. There was a suspect at the time, Warren Turton, but he was released after he was provided with an alibi by the local priest. With the priest now dead, the investigation turns back to Turton. But at least one of the investigators thinks that there is more to the original story, particularly in the inconsistent statements of the two other girls – Gypsy and Scarlett.
As with Sticks and Stones, the narrative ranges across a number of characters’ perspectives. This includes Corban’s wife Cindy whos desire to progress her press photography career bring the two into conflict, and Pippa, a young woman who has flown in from England who also has an interest in the old case. While Sticks and Stones book pushed a deeper thematic line around its various characters and subplots, The Girl Remains is more straight forward in its storytelling. This technique, though, makes it a little too obvious when the author (through the character) is hiding, or at least not revealing, key pieces of information, particularly with respect to the timeline around the disappearance.
The Girl Remains is a solid police procedural. While many of the twists will be predicted by regular crime readers, the enjoyment of the procedural is often in is seeing how the police get to the solution that the reader has already been given or worked out. Emmet Corban, once again comes across as a hard working investigator with a skilled team, dealing not only with internal police politics but with trying to hold his marriage together. And Firkin locates the action well in the landscapes and communities of the Mornington Peninsula. Following on from an effective debut, The Girl Remains places Katherine Firkin in the ranks of new Australian crime authors to watch.