Rae Cairns was shortlisted for the best debut crime novel in the Ned Kelly Awards in 2021 for her then self-published book The Good Mother. The book was picked up by Harper Collins and has now been followed up with a another standalone crime thriller Dying to Know. While it is a very different proposition, once again families and the need to fight for them are at the centre of the action.
Dying to Know opens with a propulsive hook. Cadet journalist Geneva Leighton is looking after her sister Amber’s children when Amber goes out one night to buy nappies. Amber is kidnapped while out and despite making contact with her phone from the boot of a car is never found. Twelve years later, Gen is still looking after the two kids, now sixteen and twelve, while also dealing with their alcoholic and workaholic passive aggressive father Hugh and his wealthy family including a Government Minister grandfather. Gen has never given up hope that Amber will return but when her remains are found Gen is determined to get to the truth of her kidnapping – a quest that will put her in the line of fire and threaten her relationship with her niece and nephew.
Cairns throws up plenty of suspects and roadblocks for Gen to navigate including Hugh threatening to take away access to the children, sixteen year old Lily becoming secretive and starting to fail at school, Gen’s father’s past association with biker gangs and the reappearance of Jesse the policeman who helped her at the time of the disappearance who she is not sure she can trust. On top of this is the fact that every time Gen seems to take a step forward things get worse for her.
Overall Dying to Know is an engaging thriller. The pressure is maintained throughout, the characters are all grey enough to be suspects and Cairns uses her Sydney setting well. And while it can occasionally be a little clunky there is more than enough to keep readers turning the pages.