Sarah Bailey has moved on from her Gemma Woodstock series of procedurals which began with the Ned Kelly Award winning debut The Dark Lake. The Housemate introduces new characters and a new, intriguing mystery and is a showcase for Bailey’s craft.
The Housemate opens in 2005, journalist Olive ‘Oli’ Groves arrives at the scene of a homicide. Evelyn, a young woman, has been murdered, one of her housemates, Alex, is being escorted by the police covered in blood and the third housemate, Nicole, is missing. Jump forward ten years and Oli is racing to the scene of a death outside of Melbourne, the body believed to be that of the missing Nicole. But things have changed since 2005, the newspaper that Oli works for is branching out into podcasts, and in particular a podcast about the Housemate murder. As a result, Oli is resentfully paired with young, enthusiastic podcast creator Cooper Ng.
Besides the pressure of the investigation, and her rocky relationship with Cooper, Bailey begins turning the screws on Oli from the start. Oli is now engaged to Dean, a man with whom she had been having an affair back in 2005. At that time husband of Isabelle, the lead detective in the Housemate murder case. Following Isabelle’s tragic death, their relationship has been rekindled to the point where Oli is living with Dean and his twin daughters, a life she both wants and that she feels trapped by. And when she starts to dig into Dean and Isabelle’s relationship, their idyllic life starts to seem too perfect.
The world of true crime podcasting has become a staple in crime fiction of late. By setting her main story in 2015, Bailey allows Oli her scepticism and Cooper his enthusiasm following the success of Serial. The two characters give Bailey a platform to explore the tensions between old and new media. But more importantly than that, they are engaging pair to anchor the action.
Bailey has shown an increasing mastery of the crime genre through each book. The hook that launches The Housemate is enticing, the twists are doled out effectively and the pressure on Oli mounts to fever pitch as her own suspicions mount. And while the whole builds to a necessary climax, the action at that point feels organic and still manages to deliver some surprises.
The Housemate works as a standalone but given the professions of its main characters, is also primed to potentially be the start of a great new series.