#aww2020 · 2020 Reviews · historical fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: The Mystery Woman by Belinda Alexandra

Title: The Mystery Woman

Author: Belinda Alexandra

Published: September 2nd 2020

Publisher: HarperCollins Books Australia

Pages: 432

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 5 stars

In a small town, everyone is watching … Secrets, scandal and betrayal in 1950s small town Australia: the stunning new novel from bestseller Belinda Alexandra

She had thought Shipwreck Bay was simply a remote town where people were bored senseless with their little lives. Now she saw its virtuous facade hid something darker, more sinister.

Rebecca Wood takes the role as postmistress in a sleepy seaside town, desperate for anonymity after a scandal in Sydney. But she is confronted almost at once by a disturbing discovery – her predecessor committed suicide.

To add to her worries, her hopes for a quiet life are soon threatened by the attentions of the dashing local doctor, the unsettling presence of a violent whaling captain and a corrupt shire secretary, as well as the watchful eyes of the town’s gossips. Yet in spite of herself she is drawn to the enigmatic resident of the house on the clifftop, rumoured to have been a Nazi spy.

Against the backdrop of the turbulent sea, Rebecca is soon caught up in the dangerous mysteries that lie behind Shipwreck Bay’s respectable net curtains.

Review:

‘Ooh,’ said Sue, rubbing her hands together. ‘But wouldn’t you like to know who that mystery woman is?’

Much loved Australian historical fiction novelist Belinda Alexandra makes a triumphant return with her latest release The Mystery Woman. With a touch of mystery, romance, intrigue, history and an evocative gothic fiction base, The Mystery Woman is a solid five star read from one of my own favourite Australian writers.

The small Australian town of Shipwreck Bay is the location focus of Belinda Alexandra’s The Mystery Woman. When a newcomer named Rebecca Wood arrives on the shores of this quiet whaling industry town as the new postmistress, the townsfolk wonder what brought this glamorous woman to such a quiet town. But Rebecca has a secret that she wants to keep, involving an older man and scandal back in the city. Rebecca is determined to keep her past locked away and start afresh in Shipwreck Bay. It doesn’t take long before Rebecca’s glamourous looks catch the eye of the local doctor and the two soon begin to develop a relationship. However, not everyone in Shipwreck Bay is taken with the new postmistress and it isn’t long before Rebecca is targeted by one of the town’s key figures who is hell bent in exposing Rebecca’s true reasons for coming to Shipwreck Bay. As danger, speculation, death and sabotage surround Rebecca, she realises she has been backed into a corner, can Rebecca set herself free?

I have long admired Belinda Alexandra. This talented Australian novelist first caught my attention many years ago when I read her novel White Gardenia. Over the years I have followed Alexandra’s work closely, loyally purchasing her books to read as soon as they hit bookstores. Although I consider The Mystery Woman to be quite a departure from the usual style of novel by Belinda Alexandra, I have to say I loved this new direction. I hope you have more gothic Australian mystery fiction for us Belinda!

The Mystery Woman is exactly the kind of novel I gravitate towards. A strong and atmospheric Australian setting defines the location base of this new book from Belinda Alexandra. I immediately felt like a fellow newcomer to the town of Shipwreck Bay while I followed Rebecca’s story. The rich sense of place, conjured by Alexandra’s vivid descriptions of this heady locale helped to completely immerse me in the surroundings of this eerie small town. Everything is carefully presented for the reader. We are privy to the sights, sounds and smells of Shipwreck Bay, which are expressed with sheer clarity. Alexandra also ties in some very important insights into the whaling industry during the 1950s post war time period. I have some prior knowledge of whaling practices in Australia thanks to a first-hand visit to a West Australian whaling town and museum, but I felt that Alexandra was able to impart a great deal more about this industry. The whaling aspect of the book added an extra edge of tension, menace and foreboding to this haunting tale.

In terms of the lead character of Rebecca Wood, I really connected with Alexandra’s principal protagonist. I love how Belinda Alexandra always manages to cast strong and formidable women at the core of her novels and The Mystery Woman is no exception. I admired Rebecca’s resolve, determination, stance and her glamourous approach to life. I despaired when the true Rebecca was squashed by the leading male figure of this tale and I longed for Rebecca to regain her true spirit. Rebecca’s journey is a tumultuous one at that, full of interesting relationship developments, intriguing interactions, dangerous spills and remarkable moments. Rebecca’s journey was never dull and I was completely attached to this book from start to finish.

What I appreciated about the characterisation approach Alexandra was able to take to her cast was the emphasis on both the female and male figures of this time being ahead of their time. Both Rebecca and another key character named Stefan, were clearly not suited to the time and place in which they were situated. For Rebecca, her trailblazing spirit and ability to assist others in need gets her into trouble. While Stefan faces his own personal battles in his strong attitude towards environmentalism, as the unfolding story exposes the inhumane whaling practices taking place at Shipwreck Bay.

Within the pages of this alluring and eloquent novel we are confronted with a range of themes, from suicide, PTSD, post war changes, disability, infidelity, politics, environmentalism, whaling practices, the media, domestic violence, gender role expectations, societal norms, morals, abuse, elderly care and community relations. There are also broader themes in place such as romance, friendships, relationships, intrigue, mystery, danger, gossip, scandal, innuendo, unwritten rules and gender expectations. I couldn’t get enough of this narrative, it was beautifully presented and offered an extremely high level of entertainment.

The Mystery Woman is a spellbinding Australian gothic fiction tale. I award five shining stars to Belinda Alexandra’s latest triumph.

The Mystery Woman by Belinda Alexandra was published on 2nd September 2020 by HarperCollins – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Mystery Woman, Belinda Alexandra visit here.

The Mystery Woman is book #128 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge

4 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: The Mystery Woman by Belinda Alexandra

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