There is plenty of Australian historical rural crime fiction around at the moment. So much so, that it might be possible to identify an even more niche subgenre – Australian historical rural crime fiction narrated in whole or in part by children or teenagers. The best known is probably Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones but other recent examples include Greg Woodland’s The Night Whistler ,Maryrose Cuskelly’s The Cane and Hayley Scrivenor’s Dirt Town. Sean Wilson’s debut Gemini Falls is narrated by a teenager, with all of the positives and negatives that come with that narrative decision, but sets itself apart in this sub-sub genre with its setting – rural Victoria during the Great Depression.
The book opens in Melbourne in the 1930s, thirteen year-old Morris Turner overhears his detective father Jude taking a phonecall about a murder of a teenage girl. Soon both Morris and his sister Lottie are accompanying Jude to his old home town of Gemini where he has been sent to investigate. The three stay on the family farm, now run by Jude’s brother. Morris finds his teenage cousin is an armchair detective and the two decide to investigate the murder themselves. They, of course, make wild assumptions and get themselves in trouble while the real investigation goes on in the background.
The interest here is not so much in the murder mystery or the naïve investigation run by the teenagers, but rather the time and place that Wilson evokes. The Depression had caused widespread unemployment and forced many out of their homes. Gemini is a small mining town where work is scarce and the young are looking for a way out, on its outskirts is a camp of itinerants who are suspected of everything purely due to their poverty. And it does not take much for local politicians to stir up sentiment against the outsiders who are just looking for a place to sleep and enough to eat.
There is a strain of tragedy running through Gemini Falls, including the reason why Jude left in the first place. The action is set during a tough time for the people and the country as a whole and the resolution of the investigation piles on more tragedy rather than providing any particular enlightenment or satisfaction. Despite this, Wilson manages to lighten the tone through Morris’s narrative voice – his optimism, loyalty to friends and family and fascination with the stars.