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Stone Town by Margaret Hickey

18/07/2022
Stone Town by Margaret Hickey

Margaret Hickey leveraged off short stories set in the Australian bush to deliver a clever rural crime procedural debut Cutter’s End. That book featured Detective Mark Ariti coming from Adelaide into the South Australian outback but actually, it turns out, a country boy himself. Hickey’s follow-up Stone Town finds Ariti back in his home town of Booralama, running the local police station and living in his mother’s house following her death.

Stone Town opens with a murder. Local property dealer Aidan Sleeth is found shot in bushland around Stone Town, an old goldmining community near Booralama. Ariti goes to investigate and is immediately put onto a possible motive – Ariti had been buying up local land and was seeking to develop it. But the city detectives who are sent to help him are not all that interested in the Sleeth case as they are focussed on the search for missing detective Natalie Whitsed. Whitsed had been investigating an organised crime family and had possibly come out to the area before she disappeared.

Hickey once again shows a deep understanding of the Australian landscape and its characters. Although she sets herself a challenge here. As part of his investigation Ariti needs to discover things about some of the people that he meets and their histories that one would imagine he might have known or at least suspected having grown up in Booralama. This includes a fairly vital piece of information that once revealed might make readers wonder why no one mentioned it earlier. And as a local, readers might imagine that he would be a little more au fait with the surrounding bushland. But Ariti’s reticence around the bush does give him (and Hickey) a chance to (ironically?) reflect on a particular strain of Australian gothic (and a feature of a swathe of recent Australian crime releases):

Australians were obsessed with the idea – landscape swallows the young. National poets, artists, journalists and film makers were dedicated to the trope – Picnic at Hanging Rock made it almost glamorous. Miranda! Azaria Chamberlain lent it truth. Was there ever a settled people more afraid of the land they lived in?

Hickey constructs a mystery with several moving parts that reflects some of the themes she dealt with in Cutter’s End. There is never any doubt that the various plot lines will come together but they do so fairly organically. This is assisted by a bit of playing with time in relation to one strand of the narrative that comes together with the main story in an ‘ah ha’ moment about two thirds of the way through. Altogether making Stone Town another solid entry in the burgeoning Australian rural crime scene.

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Stone Town by Margaret Hickey

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Stone Town by Margaret Hickey

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