Title: Cedar Valley
Author: Holly Throsby
Published: September 26th 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
On the first day of summer in 1993, two strangers arrive in the town of Cedar Valley.
One is a calm looking man in a brown suit. He makes his way down the main street and walks directly to Cedar Valley Curios & Old Wares, sitting down on the footpath, where he leans silently against the big glass window for hours.
The other is 21-year-old Benny Miller. Fresh out of university, Benny has come to Cedar Valley in search of information about her mother, Vivian, who has recently died. Vivian’s mysterious old friend, Odette Fisher, has offered Benny her modest pale green cottage for as long as she wants it.
Is there any connection between the man on the pavement and Benny’s quest to learn more about her mother? Holly Throsby is the perfect guide as Cedar Valley and its inhabitants slowly reveal their secrets.
Inspired by one of Australia’s most profound and unsolved case mysteries, ‘The Somerton Man’, comes Cedar Valley, the second novel from musician turned writer Holly Throsby. Cedar Valley is an authentic and weaving small town Australian mystery. With secrets, family connections and a vibrant community at the very core of this novel, Cedar Valley is a profound tribute to Australia’s regional centres.
Opening on the pivotal first day of the summer season in the year 1993, Cedar Valley sees two newcomers arrive in this small town on the same day. Benny is one of these freshly arrived strangers. Benny is a university student, twenty one years old and is desperate to find out more information on her recently deceased mother, Vivian. Helping Benny uncover the secrets of her lineage is Odette, a local resident of Cedar Valley and an old friend of Benny’s mother. An old cottage awaits Benny in the town of Cedar Valley, as she attempts to uncover her mother’s past. By coincidence, another newcomer arrives in Cedar Valley. This man is impeccably dressed and is drawn to a local antique shop. It is quite shocking for the townspeople of Cedar Valley when the unknown man dies on the pavement of the place he has been sitting at for hours on end. Cedar Valley tries to make sense of these two different mysteries simultaneously, while drawing on the possible connection between these two strangers. Cedar Valley is a meandering tale, with expert host Holly Throsby in the control centre.
With the tagline ‘Strange things happen in small towns’ I knew that I was going to enjoy Cedar Valley, the second novel by Holly Throsby. Cedar Valley is also second novel I have read by this author. I read and enjoyed Goodwood, Throsby’s debut novel when it released last year. Cedar Valley shows us how Throsby has continued to thrive as a small town Australian fiction writer. This second novel is even richer than her first, demonstrating just how well versed Throsby is in encapsulating regional Australia.
Small town rural fiction doused with plenty of mystery and intrigue are the best words I can use to describe Cedar Valley. If you had the pleasure of reading Goodwood, Throsby’s first novel, you are going to really appreciate this second offering. Throsby has refined her craft and the end result is a book that captures the sense of community, togetherness, vibe and a natural curiosity of small town Australia. This is Throsby’s passion and clearly she has a great deal of affection for accurately representing small town Australia. This is an authentic tale, filled with characters that we know we would easily bump in to down the street, or share a drink with at the local pub. Connected to this is the wonderful sense of nostalgia that I gained from the time period this novel is set, the early 1990s. Throsby’s depiction of this time in our not too distant past was spot on.
I liked the way in which Cedar Valley morphed into a path of self discovery for the lead of the story, Benny. A newcomer to Cedar Valley, following the death of her mother, with only scant clues to her mother’s background, Benny becomes covered in the fabric of this colourful community. It is a great journey to follow, full of interesting clues, some dead ends and of course startling discoveries. Connected to this is how the community comes to embrace Benny along with how Benny comes to lean on the people of Cedar Valley. It is an endearing touch and I appreciated this aspect of the book very much.
The central mystery of the novel, the baffling case of the stranger who comes to Cedar Valley and unexpectedly dies, is one of the prime reasons why I was enthralled by this book all the way through. When I discovered this is segment of the story was loosely based on the cold case that has baffled Australia’s greatest sleuths for decades, I found it quite remarkable. It sparked something in me, an innate need to find out more about the Somerton man case. Throsby handles this aspect of her novel with plenty of poise and a steady guiding hand. Many may pick up that this is a highly character orientated and slow burn style mystery novel, but it is well worth investigating. The end comes rolling past you with a sense of satisfaction.
Sometimes it is hard to imagine how a seemingly inconsequential death of an unknown person can have such as ripple effect on a small town. Cedar Valley shows the care, concern, support, intrigue and effective nature of communities, such as the endearing one represented on the pages of this novel. Throsby has extended herself and has provided readers with another profound small town Australian mystery novel.
Cedar Valley by Holly Throsby was published on 26th September 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Cedar Valley, Holly Throsby, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Cedar Valley is book #133 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge
*Book ‘T’ of the a-z author challenge 2018