My Rating:🌟🌟🌟 1/2
Set in a small town in rural Victoria near the Grampian mountains, Wimmera tells the coming-of-age story of two boys, Fab and Ben, whose friendship bonds them like brothers. Playing cricket in the backyard and going yabbying down the local creek, they support each other when either of them needs it: standing united against bullies, providing a safe shelter when Fab’s father has been drinking too much, discussing their changing bodies and having childhood crushes on girls or Fab’s mother. Until the day a newcomer arrives in town and their innocence is shattered forever.
With his debut novel, Brandi combines two genres I love: a good coming-of-age story and a murder mystery. The two boys are likeable larrikins, facing the age-old and timeless problems of kids growing up in a remote Australia country town. As a mother of a boy, it was impossible not to feel maternal towards them! A large part of the book is set in the eighties, and there are some classic Australian elements in the story that will bring back many a reader’s childhood memories: the ageless game of backyard cricket, for example, each boy striving to emulate their sporting heroes, which are all well-known names in Australian sporting history. Brandi sets a vivid, atmospheric scene, and I could picture it all very well: the dust, the heat, the flies and two boys drudging down the hill with their fishing nets and bait to catch some yabbies. And whilst both boys’ childhood is far from idyllic – Fab has a violent alcoholic father whilst Ben’s is somewhat remote and disinterested – their friendship usually sees them through.
There is a melancholic and bleak thread running through the story that has become a characteristic of some Australian crime novels and perhaps emulates the hardship faced by people living in remote locations with extreme climates and difficult economic situations. But Brandi takes it one step further, introducing a dark and sinister element which will set the story on its inevitable path of self-destruction. Be warned: there are some dark themes here. Domestic violence, racism, bullying, sexual abuse, suicide and murder, and a predator so depraved that he will change the boys’ lives forever. Whist Brandi is not shy at exploring some issues, he merely hints at others, which worked really well for me, as sometimes the things left to one’s imagination are more chilling than those spoken out loud. What starts as a happy-go-lucky tale of two boys growing up, soon takes on a worrying note, and I was terrified of what would happen to Ben. What didn’t work so well for me was the dual timeline, which abruptly changes mid-book and takes the story in a different direction. I was so invested in the first part, that I found it very difficult to change perspective. And the end – well, no spoilers, but it simply broke my heart! There were perhaps a few things that could have been explained a bit more to bring all the threads together, but generally I thought it was a gripping albeit very dark read.
Wimmera is a dark and melancholy coming-of-age story / murder mystery from a talented new voice in Australian crime fiction. Incorporating some iconic Australian elements, the story is like time-travel back to the eighties, capturing the quintessential rural Australian spirit of the time. With some very dark elements running through the story, it may not appeal to all readers, but I found it a gripping and haunting read and am looking forward to reading more from this author in future.
Thank you to Netgalley and Hachette Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.