Louise Wolhunter’s An Afterlife for Rosemary Lamb is touted as a mystery. And the plot does involve a missing teenager. But the deeper mysteries here revolve around the three main characters. Three women who have little in common except loneliness and their need for connection.
The action of An Afterlife for Rosemary Lamb centres around a small rural Queensland town of Winifred. The main characters live on Magpie Beach, a rocky inlet outside of the main town. Meg lived a solitary life in a caravan on the beach following the death of her partner Sonny. Lily lives in a house on the hill above the beach with her husband who seems to be suffering from dementia. They are brought together by nineteen year-old Rosemary, who moves out to the beach with her new husband Eddie Lamb. Rosemary has her own issues, widely suspected of not being the daughter of her abusive father and rushed into a teenage marriage, she longs to leave Winifred and Magpie Beach behind but Eddie is very happy staying put.
The disappearance of teenager Jessie Else does not make much of an impact on the three until sometime later when the body is discovered close to Rosemary and Eddie’s house. Eddie is immediately a suspect and the three women have to rely more heavily on each other. However, as this happens, more secrets come to the surface.
This is a crime novel where the crimes and their investigation happen off the page. The three women are, for the most part, tangential to this action. While it makes their lives more believable it makes the narrative driver hard to follow. Readers never get an insight into why the police suspect Eddie in the first place. Rosemary certainly does not know. And then the resolution of the who and the why is further hard to really comprehend.
An Afterlife for Rosemary Lamb tries to use some of the conventions of Australian rural crime fiction to tell a story of the connection between three women, their relationship and the impact on them of their very different relationships with their partners. But the crime element distracts from rather than enhances the central tale here and as a result the revelations, when they come, do not land as powerfully as they should.