Title: Where the River Runs
Author: Fleur McDonald
Published: November 1st 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Australian, Rural, Suspense
Rating: 4 stars
Ten years ago, thirty-year-old Chelsea Taylor left the small country town of Barker and her family’s property to rise to the top as a concert pianist. With talent, ambition and a determination to show them all at home, Chelsea thought she had it made.
Yet here she was, back in Barker, with her four-year-old daughter, Aria, readying herself to face her father, Tom. The father who’d shouted down the phone ten years ago never to come home again.
With an uneasy truce developing, Chelsea and Aria settle into the rhythm of life on the land with Tom and Cal, the farmhand, who seems already to have judged Chelsea badly. Until a shocking discovery is made on the riverbed and Detective Dave Burrows, the local copper, has to tear back generations of family stories to reveal the secrets of the past.
Chelsea just wants a relationship with her dad but will he ever want that too? Or will his memory lapses mean they’ll never get that opportunity?
‘The Voice of the Outback’, Fleur McDonald, returns with another riveting Australian rural suspense crossed with family drama novel. Where the River Runs reintroduces Detective Dave Burrows, who first appeared in Fools Gold, the previous release from Fleur McDonald. Chelsea Taylor is the central figure of this new rural story. With her four year old daughter in tow, Chelsea is trying to reconcile with her tragic past and connect her daughter to her roots.
When Where the River Runs begins, we learn that the main protagonist of this new tale from popular rural fiction novelist Fleur McDonald is back in her home town of Barker after a ten year absence. Chelsea left Barker many years ago to pursue a music career in the city. She is now back home trying to make amends with her father, using her daughter Aria as a stepping stone to reconciliation. Slow and tentative steps are made towards a relationship between father and daughter. When the effects of drought and a big downpour occurs while Chelsea is in Barker, something intriguing is unearthed nearby to Chelsea’s family farm. Detective Dave Burrows is called in and before long an intriguing case starts to form. Family secrets, drama and the past all collide in this moving new tale from Fleur McDonald.
I believe Where the River Runs heralds the twelfth novel from rural fiction specialist Fleur McDonald. Each time Fleur McDonald releases a new book, I am always so amazed at her ability to bring the country and its issues to the floor for those who are largely unfamiliar with the outback. Without fail, I encounter stories from McDonald that are rich, real and deeply authentic. McDonald tops this vivid outback based tale with intriguing lines of suspense. The placement of reoccurring character Detective Dave Burrows adds a great element of crime to the more recent tales from Fleur McDonald. Readers receive a bonus in the form of a solid police procedural tale, in conjunction with a highly engaging rural drama.
Where the River Runs is primarily focussed on the heroine of the novel, Chelsea Taylor. This is an unusual narrative strand. We see a local girl leave the confines of her family farm and head to the city to embark on a career as a musician. In the meantime, Chelsea makes a number of mistakes for which she pays quite the price. Chelsea is a far from perfect lead but I feel this makes her more rounded, believable and easy to sympathise with. I enjoyed uncovering Chelsea’s secrets, her past hurts and the strained relationship dynamic between her father, as well as the wider community of Barker. Chelsea’s little daughter Aria is a little angel of grace, who ends up bringing together a fractured family that so desperately needs to reunite in their grief.
McDonald uses the main storyline of Where the River Runs to full capacity to explore regret, ill decisions, foresight, suppression and grief. These are serious themes that are touched on with understanding and sensitivity. Further to this McDonald delves into feelings of the impact of drought, homecoming, community perceptions and family politics. No matter the issue or theme, McDonald’s approach is insightful and nuanced.
Linking to the family drama present in Where the River Runs is a very finely drawn crime sub narrative. This is where McDonald draws on returning character Detective Dave Burrows. When a vicious downpour occurs in the local area it churns up a long buried secret from the past. A decades old skeleton, along with an old relic and mysterious box, puts Detective Burrows on a fascinating investigation that will unlock a mystery from times past. I have to say this was my favourite aspect of the tale and McDonald presented this area of the novel with plenty of bravado. I was hooked!
I am now very sure I know why Fleur McDonald has been labelled the ‘Voice of the Outback’. Her novels are deeply rooted in the country; her voice is sincere and very clearly drawn from her many years of firsthand experience working on the land. Readers will find Where the River Runs another exemplary and true to life tale of what happens in our outback. The atmosphere is maintained with a strong air of authenticity, revealing broken hearts, everyday struggles, issues of contention and the small triumphs that can be celebrated by those that inhabit our harsh rural parts of Australia.
It is easy to revel in the writing of Fleur McDonald, she is a formidable talent in the field of Australian rural fiction. Not only does she do rural fiction extremely well, the added bonus of a great line of crime, intrigue and suspense simply suspends the reader. Where the River Runs comes highly recommended to all passionate Aussie readers.
Where the River Runs by Fleur McDonald was published on 1st November 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Where the River Runs, Fleur McDonald visit here.
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Where the River Runs is book #150 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge