Melanie Calvert’s debut novel is a murder mystery set in the Tasmanian wilderness, and inspired by real events.
Set in the eerie wilderness of Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park, Melanie Calvert’s Freycinet
is a psychological thriller that revolves around a woman, Ginny, her fiancé Julian and two girls – Ruth and Vivienne – who vanish without a trace during Ginny and Julian’s holiday.
Ginny arrives in Freycinet accompanied by a deep sense of malaise, and troubled by Julian’s increasingly erratic and menacing behaviour over the past six months. Adding to Ginny’s inherent confusion is Julian’s sudden insistence that they get married as soon as possible. Her feeling of dread are compounded by the foreboding she feels when she first sets eyes on the Hazards, a rugged mountainous region that borders the national park.
The stark peaks of the Hazards burst out of a dark silk sea. Even from this distance they look jagged and razor sharp, cruel; red tinged, as if they are raw, or bloodied.
Unable to explain her inexplicable aversion towards the Hazards, Ginny is plagued by disturbing premonitions of the girls’ disappearance and depraved images of blood and gore. When the girls disappear, Ginny embarks on a search and rescue mission with the increasingly suspicious Julian, deranged barman Rory Reed, dark and brooding photographer Tom Westwood, and head of the mission, Sergeant Greaves. Journeying further into the depths of Freycinet than she thought possible, Ginny is confronted with numerous questions – each as unanswerable as the next – as she considers the dilemma that each and all of her search party comrades could be the killer.
Inspired by the 1993 disappearance of German tourist Nancy Grunwaldt, and the 1995 murder of Italian tourist Victoria Cafasso in north-east Tasmania, Calvert has merged the two grisly accounts to create a debut murder mystery about love, lust, secrecy and retribution.
She has an evocative style of writing, where every smell, sight and touch is deftly captured in paragraphs of colourful description. As she innocuously drops nuggets of information and peppers each chapter with a different recollection of Ginny’s past, readers are drawn further into the tangled web that connects Ginny, Julian and the two missing girls.
All too often however, the unravelling of the story – narrated solely from Ginny’s perspective – is bogged down by too many descriptions invoked to paint the picture, set the scene and explore the multitude of emotions Ginny feels. As the story plods lugubriously along, the repetition of established themes and emotions do nothing to heighten the overarching sense of suspense and misgiving – rather, it makes for a laborious read.
Calvert intersperses Ginny’s present experiences with flashbacks to her everyday life with Julian and historical accounts of Tasmania’s past, but instead of illuminating the story, the change of pace is jarring and disrupts the natural flow of the story.
At times, Ginny’s narration borders on blatant self-indulgence. Instead of allowing readers to infer what may be happening from the various things she bears witness to, Ginny draws overt connections where subtle inferences may have been more effective.
With frequent mention of Tasmania’s troubled past – Martin Bryant and the Port Arthur massacre; the systemic near-extermination of its Aboriginal population – as well as references to the island’s wild landscape and seclusion from the world, Calvert succeeds in creating an unsettling atmosphere that persists throughout the novel. Tasmania is personified so frequently and so vividly, it begins to embody a central character in Ginny’s narrative.
While the ending feels a touch rushed, it is nevertheless a surprise, and leaves readers feeling puzzled and disconcerted – reinterpreting what they took to have understood from Ginny’s narrative.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
By Melanie Calvert
Paperback, 325pp, US $25 (ebook $US 4.99)