Author: Matt Nable
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: April 2021
Expected publication: 26 May 2021
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 all the stars!
Darwin, Summer, 1963.
The humidity sat heavy and thick over the town as Senior Constable Ned Potter looked down at a body that had been dragged from the shallow marshland. He didn't need a coroner to tell him this was a bad death. He didn't know then that this was only the first. Or that he was about to risk everything looking for answers.
Late one night, Charlotte Clark drove the long way home, thinking about how stuck she felt, a 23-year-old housewife, married to a cowboy who wasn't who she thought he was. The days ahead felt suffocating, living in a town where she was supposed to keep herself nice and wait for her husband to get home from the pub. Charlotte stopped the car, stepped out to breathe in the night air and looked out over the water to the tangled mangroves. She never heard a sound before the hand was around her mouth.
Both Charlotte and Ned are about to learn that the world they live in is full of secrets and that it takes courage to fight for what is right. But there are people who will do anything to protect themselves and sometimes courage is not enough to keep you safe.
If you have been looking for an atmospheric Australian mystery to read – congratulations, you have just found it!
Imagine Darwin in the 1960s. The Northern Territory is still very much one of Australia’s last frontiers. A place where crocodile hunters, buffalo shooters and cowboys gather at the local pub to escape the heat and humidity and get drunk. A place of fierce summer storms, of crocodiles lurking in waterways, of wilderness and isolation. But this is not the happy-go-lucky Territory of Crocodile Dundee, because beneath the surface of this tropical wonderland lies a dark underbelly that is the flip side of isolation. An outpost where outlaws can hide, where money speaks, where corruption is rife. A place where wealthy white men rule, but if you are black, or poor, or too honest, you’d best be keeping your head down and your mouth shut.
It is in this untamed land that we find ourselves in, watching in horror as Senior Constable Ned Potter discovers a badly decomposed body in shallow marshland. It is also here that we get to know Charlotte Clark, a young housewife who is contemplating her unhappy marriage and her bleak future. If you are wondering what these two characters can possibly have in common, don’t despair, because in the end all the threads will come together seamlessly. For now though, let’s just follow each one on their journey, living separate lives and yet being connected not only by the wild land they love but also by their own moral compass, because both Ned and Charlotte are not willing to turn a blind eye to injustice, and their actions on that fateful night will have far reaching consequences for both of them.
STILL may start with the slow languid pace of a tropical morning, but it soon picked up pace as the underlying sense of threat and danger to our two main protagonists mounted. I loved the way Nable conjured up the Northern Territory for me, from the beautiful and yet often hostile landscape to its rich cast of characters. A place so remote always attracts its share of misfits, and we find a few of them here, gathered around the bar of the Victoria Hotel or fishing on the banks of the river, talking to crocodiles. Or running for their lives through the swamp to escape a ruthless killer.
Rich in atmosphere and tension, the book slowly reeled me in but soon had me firmly in its grip. I loved both characters of Ned and Charlotte, as different and unconnected as they first seemed. I find that so often mysteries feature predictable stereotypes as lead roles, but Nable proves that his heroes can be ordinary and flawed and yet so richly drawn that they came alive on the pages. Nable writes with an honesty that was both terrifying as it was refreshing, and the book rolled out movie-like in front of my eyes. What an utter gem! I had not expected to find such depth and insight in a crime novel.
All in all, without giving too much away, STILL is the type of gritty, atmospheric Australian crime novel that doesn’t come along very often. Set in the 1960’s in one of Australia’s last frontiers, it is both refreshing and terrifying as Nable is not afraid to expose the dark underbelly that lurks beneath the surface, only showing its ugly head as it is about to strike. With two enigmatic lead characters who are both complex and richly drawn, and a wild setting that appealed to my sense of adventure, the book soon reeled me in and held me firmly in its grip. A true gem of a novel I can highly recommend to all lovers of Australian crime novels. I look forward to reading a lot 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.