Ever since COVID-19 hit, Jane has had to work as a contact tracer for COVID clusters in NSW. One day, she gets a call from a woman – Nicole, who is stuck in a violent relationship. The call and Jane’s subsequent involvement in trying to help Nicole brings up memories of the abusive ex of her daughter Tara. Jane and Tara have been hiding in the Blue Mountains for six years, but now the man they’ve been running from is close and, as past and present collide, they realise they can’t hide forever.
Traced is a fast-paced Australian noir thriller, taking place across two timelines – one in 2014, when Jeanette plans to help her daughter, Courtney, escape domestic violence, and the other in 2020, in between lockdowns in NSW, where Jane and her daughter Tara are still on edge and trying to stay safe. Going back and forth in time builds the tension well because of the slow revelation about who the characters really are. The dual timeline also allows information to be delivered when it needs to be, ensuring a slow build-up to the climax and an intensity that keeps the pages turning.
Questions that arise early on are answered in good time, which is the mark of a good thriller or mystery. Jinks also uses Traced to explore trauma, intergenerational trauma and the various responses people have to it, through the lens of two women who have experienced domestic violence and gaslighting in a range of ways. Jane’s motivations and actions, albeit not quite legal, make sense and prompt the question: what would you do for your child?
The title’s clever dual meaning – COVID contact tracers and running from being traced by an abuser – is a great way to make people think about the different ways people are traced or leave traces. As a COVID tracer, Jane uses technology to work out infection clusters to protect the community. Technology is shown as both useful and dangerous, as it can be unpredictable and scary when it is being used against someone. This alludes to the second meaning of the title. Coupled with their uncertainty due to the pandemic, Jane and Tara feel their years of security shaken, fearing that they will be traced and tracked down by Griffin.
Jinks has captured the range of emotions effectively – feeling trapped, fear, frustration, anger, love and everything in between. The fear is palpable and crawls off the page, so the reader can feel it too. Pulling the reader into the book in this way ensures readers feel slightly uneasy, which makes a thriller work well.
The up-and-down emotions and the cleverly constructed dual timeline and plot make the reader feel like they are being watched – and there are several instances where you may feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s Jane’s bravery that drives much of the novel, her willingness to do anything for Tara, and to ensure Nicole doesn’t have to be abused anymore. This a book that needs to be read with the lights on, and one that you will be unwilling to put down.
Traced, Catherine Jinks
Publisher: Text Publishing
Release date: 4 July 2023