Title: The Shearer’s Wife
Author: Fleur McDonald
Published: November 3rd 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 stars
A riveting new novel of rural suspense from the bestselling Voice of the Outback.1980: Rose and Ian Kelly arrive in the small South Australian town of Barker for supplies, before driving a further couple of hundred kilometres to begin shearing at Jacksonville Station. Rose, heavily pregnant with their first babies, worries that despite Ian’s impending fatherhood he remains a drifter who dreams of the open road.
2020: When the Australian Federal Police swoop unheralded into Barker and make a shocking arrest for possession of narcotics, Detective Dave Burrows is certain there is more to the story than meets the eye.
After many months of grief over her brother’s illness and death, journalist Zara Ellison is finally ready to begin a new chapter of her life and make a commitment to her boyfriend, Senior Constable Jack Higgins. But when she’s assigned to investigate the Barker arrest, Jack begins to believe that Zara is working against him.
It takes a series of unconnected incidents in Zara’s digging to reveal an almost forgotten thread of mystery as to how these two events, forty years apart, could be connected.
With over 60, 000 books sold, Fleur McDonald returns with her fifteenth novel, The Shearer’s Wife. Drawing on her own first hand experiences, Fleur McDonald is an author who writes passionately about strong women overcoming adversity. The Shearer’s Wife is a well written novel that displays McDonald’s implicit understanding of the true challenges of rural life.
Told over two different time frames over forty years apart, The Shearer’s Wife travels from 1980 to 2020. After an eventful journey, the story eventually converges in a dramatic finale. In the past thread, we meet young married couple Rose and Ian Kelly, who have been travelling around Australia as Ian performs his work as a shearer. When the story begins, we learn that this couple are expecting twins and have just settled in the South Australian region of Barker, as Ian prepares to take up a position at a station. Once they reach this new posting Rose knows that Ian will not want to stay put for very long, as he seems to enjoy living the life of a nomad. Rose is naturally anxious about moving from place to place with her newborn babies. Can this couple come to an agreement? The Shearer’s Wife moves forward in time to the year 2020, as the town of Barker receives a good serving of action in the form of a federal based police case. As the police arrest a local Barker resident in connection to the possession of narcotics, local law enforcement officer Detective Dave Burrows is apprehensive about this arrest. Dave vows to look into the case further, despite the warnings he has received to stay off the case. Also on the case in the present day is journalist Zara Ellison, who is determined to report the truth on the arrest of the Barker narcotics scandal. However, in investigating this case for her story, Zara is putting her relationship with Senior Constable Jack Higgins in jeopardy. With Zara’s incessant search the truth to this Barker based mystery, a decades old secret will be revealed, with surprising results.
Fleur McDonald has done it again, this very talented Australian rural crime author has penned another great book that kept me engaged from cover to cover. With two powerful storylines with over four decades of breadth to cover, The Shearer’s Wife is a thoroughly engaging outback mystery novel.
I must say that I did enjoy the 1980 past timeline just a touch more than the present day storyline. Although I have a soft spot for Detective Dave Burrows based on the previous books I have read featuring this enigmatic character, I was definitely drawn to the 1980 narrative thread. I think that I connected very easily to Rose, the lead character in this storyline. It is easy to relate to and draw sympathy for Rose, she was placed in quite a difficult predicament. Being virtually alone and heavily pregnant with twins would be incredibly scary. We see Rose’s fear and anxiety in this area, but we also witness Rose accept help from the tight knit community of Barker. I loved this aspect of the story, it displayed the good side to small town communities and the residents that populate these country settings. Rose was embraced and supported by the local community in her time of need. This aspect of The Shearer’s Wife definitely gives the reader a wonderful sense of hope and a warm feeling spread over me as I read these areas of the novel. On the other side of this past narrative and the character of Rose, we have her husband Ian. What an appalling excuse for man Ian proved to be! Ian definitely earned my ire! However, I suspect that McDonald was using the figure of Ian to express how men of this era acted and behaved. Although it may seem absolutely unfair, this was the way life for a roaming shearer. I didn’t agree with Ian’s behaviour or decisions, but I think McDonald did a very good job of exposing the reality of the situation.
Connected to character of Ian, is the history of the shearing trade. McDonald issues her readers with a comprehensive overview of the general practices and challenges of an Australian shearer in the 1980s. I enjoyed the authentic based insight into this essential Australian trade. McDonald’s knowledge and understanding has been drawn from her research in this area. McDonald strives to provide her audience with a solid understanding of the everyday lives of those who live and work on the land in outback Australia. Not only do we get another realistic glimpse into the lives of a small town Australian police department and the work of journalist, we also receive an honest look into the life of a shearer and the pressures this form of employment has the family members linked to this trade.
There is a wonderful mystery element to The Shearer’s Wife, which seems to compliment the suspense aspect of this tale. The search for the truth and the attempts made by the present day characters to discover how the events in 1980 could be linked to the present day happenings is what implored me to read on. I was surprised by the shocking finale, what a way to close a truly fantastic read!
With plenty of mystery, intrigue, suspense, secrets and suspicion, The Shearer’s Wife is another explosive rural crime novel from bestselling author Fleur McDonald.
The Shearer’s Wife by Fleur McDonald was published on 3rd November 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Shearer’s Wife, Fleur McDonald, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Shearer’s Wife is book #122 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge