In her last few novels, Australian author Catherine Jinks has turned to domestic thrillers – books driven by seemingly ordinary people behaving badly and those who have to stand up to them. In Shelter, a woman who helps abuse survivors fleeing their relationships, finds her refuge under attack. In The Attack, a former school teacher is forced to relive her dealings with badly behaved children and their parents. And now we have Traced, another thriller that centres around a dangerous, gaslighting man and the lengths people must go to deal with him.
Traced opens in 2020, at the height of the initial contact tracing phase of the Covid pandemic. At this time, teams from the Health Department were actively calling close contacts of people infected to try and prevent the spread of the disease. Jane works on one of the contact tracing teams and in a regular phonecall comes across a possibly abused woman who she soon finds is living with Griffin, her own daughter’s ex. While the full story of Jane’s interaction with Griffin back in 2014/5 plays out over the rest of the book, Jinks makes clear very early on that he is potentially dangerous and that Jane’s involvement in the case may well have put her and her daughter in danger.
The tension in Traced is built around a singular, nasty character. Griffin is a type of smiling, confident man who totally controls all of his relationships. It becomes clear through the story of his relationship with Tara that Griffin does this by constantly undermining and gaslighting and even creating “accidents” that make his partners start to doubt themselves. As with her previous two books, Jinks is also interested in exploring the long term impacts of these relationships on people who get out of them. But as a result, it does feel a little like Jinks has come to this well before and so does not add a lot that is new to the issue.
Much like Jaws, the monster in Traced is not seen (except in flashback) for the majority of the present day narrative, allowing the tension to slowly rise as he circles closer. And Jinks adds to the tension by placing the action in the context of an aspect of recent history that is likely to make readers uncomfortable – Covid lockdowns and isolation. Taken together, while she does not have much new to say more broadly, Jinks manages to deliver another effective and suspenseful thriller in Traced.