Shelley Burr burst onto the Australian crime scene in 2022 with her rural crime debut Wake which has gone on to win both the British Crime Association Dagger and Ned Kelly Award for best debut, among others. While Wake contained many of the elements of more traditional Australian rural crime stories, Burr managed to put a fresh twist on the genre through both plot and character. With her follow up, Ripper, Burr manages to do this again. While there are plenty of recognisable tropes and character types, Burr does something new with all of these familiar components.
Rainier is a little town half-way between Sydney and Melbourne now bypassed by the highway. Seventeen years before, a man who became known as the “Rainier Ripper” killed three people in the town and almost killed a fourth. Now a tour operator, wanting to cash in on the public’s fascination with true crime, wants to create a walking tour in the town claiming it will bring tourists to the town. Many of the players who were around when the original murders took place meet with the tour operator to decide if they will support the venture. One of these is Gemma Guillory, owner of the town’s teashop, where the last victim died. The past starts to come crashing in on Gemma when the tour operator is found dead in the same location as the Ripper’s second victim. Meanwhile, in a low security prison, imprisoned ex-investigator Lane Holland is coerced into trying to get information from the Ripper about his first victim who has never been identified.
Many of the familiar elements of small town crime stories are here – a relationship between historical crimes and a current crime and a cast of characters who have known each other for a long time and thus have complicated relationships and long held secrets that both bind those characters together and make them wary of each other. But while Burr understands these tropes she is also able to tweak and play with them, creating an irresistible mystery once again anchored around two engaging characters (one new, one returning). And while there is a little predictability in some of the reveals, Burr delivers them in a way that provides satisfaction for a reader who has picked up on the clues rather than exasperation.
In Ripper Shelley Burr follows up her page-turning debut with another winner and shows there is plenty of life left in the Australian rural crime genre. And while there was no guarantee that she would have recurring characters after Wake, Burr does leave the door open for Lane Holland to return.