2016 Reviews · Australian · thriller

Book review: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

isolated incident

Book blurb: When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation – anything – that could make even the smallest sense of Bella’s death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris’s suspicion of those around her grows.

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media’s obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.4 stars

An Isolated Incident offers the reader a thorough examination of the impact of a horrific violent crime against a young Australian woman, rather than an investigation into the crime itself.

When Bella Michaels, a pretty and much loved community member of the small NSW town of Strathdee is found brutally murdered, it not only shatters a whole town but the lives of those she left behind, namely her older sister Chris. As Chris struggles to come to terms with her sister’s death, a second voice appears in this story, May Norman, a young reporter from the city, sent to cover the story. An Isolated Incident alternates between these two young women’s voices and their personal experiences in the direct fallout from Bella’s death.

An Isolated Incident is a compelling piece of psychological fiction novel that is defined by high quality writing. I have never read any previous works by Emily Maguire, but her prose struck a chord with me and I will be sure to explore more of her work in the future.  Maguire explores a myriad of controversial issues in this novel, namely violence at against women, the male perception of women and society’s treatment of female victims of crime. Maguire pulled this off well, weaving into these themes a psychological narrative based on the murder of a young woman. What emerges from reading this novel is a deeply raw and confronting piece of literature. I do feel it is a story that needs to be told and Maguire does this well through the vehicle of Bella Michael’s murder.  Maguire crafts her novel succinctly, contrasting the experiences of the victim’s sister with the young reporter. Maguire shows two very different sides to a crime but manages to sync them together finely. I did feel more empathy for the character of Chris, Bella’s sister, rather than May.  Chris was a realistically drawn character, Maguire manages to get into the innermost thoughts, feelings and fears of this character extremely well. I also found the touch of the supernatural an interesting theme which added further appeal to this page turner. The ending in this novel may frustrate some readers as it doesn’t offer complete closure. I looked at the conclusion of the book as a commentary on any crime – does locking away an offender truly bring closure to the loved ones of victims of a crime?

Harrowing, thought provoking and brilliantly written, An Isolated Incident offers the reader a very personal insight into the aftermath of a terrible crime against a young woman. I urge all readers to consider selecting this confronting but absorbing psychological thriller.

An Isolated Incident was published by Pan Macmillan Australia in 2016.



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