Book review: Clarke, Holly Throsby

A work of crime fiction that spends as much time developing its characters as it does with progressing the plot.

Clarke, which is the name of a regional town, is a breath of fresh air in the slew of bush noir titles on Australia’s crime shelves. Much like the cover, the book has a lazy, sun-kissed tempo of a NSW country town but, rather than being deterrent, it makes the plot all the more real. 

Some of that authenticity, Throsby acknowledges, is due to the similarities with the Lynette Dawson case (Dawson disappeared in 1982, with her husband recently found guilty of her murder) but to put it all on that would be a disservice. The author has done a tender study in character and setting, and it runs off the page beautifully. 

It’s cosy, but not Agatha Christie – large aspects of the murder itself happen in the past, and the lead  characters aren’t at the very front and centre of the case but, rather, orbiting around it. These are  ordinary people, living ordinary lives, but the depth and language bring interest, even in the mundane. 

At times, this emphasis on character forces the story to slow, and this is the novel’s greatest fault. A lengthy progression of plot may deter readers, especially those used to a shorter crime novel. 

Although there’s a tremendous empathy built for these characters, making it hard to not feel for them and their grief, this could have been done with perhaps fewer pages. 

Despite this, Clarke is a monument to that other side of death that remains unexplored in many crime novels – the remaining grief, not for how a love interest served the main character, but simply for how life was and how grief challenges your sense of self. It is a book about loss, so is impossible not to relate to. Seeing these characters on their journey of healing is therapeutic, and the ending is both comforting and satisfying. There’s a subtle reminder that their lives will continue, but we don’t need to be there to witness it. 

Additionally, Throsby deserves applause for creating the character of Leonie, a caregiver for the four-year-old Joe. Leonie does a great job at not taking the place of Joe’s deceased mother and keeping her memory alive. It’s important that there is a distinction between the two women and, by having Joe refer to Leonie as ‘Leelee’, Throsby does exactly that. 

Read: Book review: Tell Me Again, Amy Thunig

Clarke isn’t an action-packed page turner, and it doesn’t need to be. It’s sure in its strength as a summer read out on the balcony and, if you finish it too quickly, Throsby has two previous books just like it to keep you going. 

Clarke, Holly Throsby
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781760878740
Format: Paperback
Pages: 416pp
Publication Date: 1 November 2022
RRP: $32.99

Ella Pilson is an author-in-progress based in Naarm (Melbourne). She was shortlisted for the  Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers and is currently studying the Associate Degree of  Professional Writing & Editing at RMIT. Her opinion pieces have been published in RMIT’s Catalyst.  You can find her on Twitter at @EllaPilson.