There is so much Australian rural crime fiction around at the moment that it is possible to start identify sub-genres. And probably one of the most common is the historical or cold case in which the victim was a teenager and their peers are now grown members of the local community. Margaret Hickey used this approach in her latest Broken Bay as does Veronica Lando in her second book The Drowning Girls and Chris Hammer’s The Tilt works in three time frames. This approach allows the author to not only explore current events but to include a thread of essentially historical or nostalgia fiction into the narrative. Lowbridge, Lucy Campbell’s debut, falls squarely into this category. It follows an amateur detective who looks into the twenty year old disappearance of a local teenager. Interleaved with this narrative is the story of that girl and her friends dealing with the vicissitudes of high school.
After a cold open which describes the last moments of a local schoolgirl, the story opens with a clearly depressed and barely functioning Katherine Ashworth who has moved back to the small town of Lowbridge with husband James following a tragedy. Lowbridge is the regional town one hour from Sydney where James grew up. Katherine starts to find some purpose when she becomes involved in the local historical society. And learns about the unsolved disappearance of Tess from twenty years before. Katherine determines to do a memorial display about the case, hoping to elicit new information. The narrative also covers events twenty years earlier when senior high schoolers Tess, Luisa and Sim are planning to defy their parents and go to a party and the town in riven by the proposal by Sim’s parents to open a women’s health clinic.
In the historical sections, Campbell has more in her mind than schoolgirl shenanigans. She is interested in both the gender issues but also the class issues faced by the girls and their classmate Jac. Campbell successfully shows that nothing is quite what it seems on the surface of these lives. Meanwhile, as always in these narratives, the sins and misunderstandings of the past continue to inform the present and it is only an outsider like Katherine who is either unaware of the landmines or unafraid to ask the difficult questions that will begin to uncover the truth.
Lowbridge sets itself apart by focussing on the gender and class politics of both the adults and the teenagers and the way in which those historical attitudes continue to inform the present. It is another promising and solid entry into the burgeoning Australian rural crime fiction scene.