by Sarah Bailey

Publisher: Allen&Unwin 2024

Publisher’s blurb

DS Gemma Woodstock returns to Smithson in a mysterious new thriller from the bestselling author of The Housemate.

A car crash victim clings to life and is rushed to hospital but can’t be saved. Hours later, her corpse is stolen from the morgue. No one knows who the dead woman was or why her body was taken.

Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is back in her hometown of Smithson on maternity leave when the bizarre incident occurs. She is intrigued by the case but reluctant to get involved, despite the urging of her journalist friend Candy Fyfe. But in the days after the body goes missing, the town is rocked by another shocking crime and Gemma can’t resist joining the investigation.

Candy and Gemma follow the clues the dead woman left behind. As they attempt to discover the identity of the missing woman, Gemma uncovers devastating secrets about the people she thought she knew best. The closer Gemma gets to the truth, the more danger she is in. She desperately needs to confide in someone—but is there anyone she can trust?

A gripping, white-knuckle thriller from the bestselling author of The Dark Lake and The Housemate.


by Christina Lee

I confess that this is my first experience of Sarah Bailey’s crime fiction, but it’s certainly not going to be the last. If you are familiar with her work, you will be delighted to know that this is the fourth in her Detective Gemma Woodstock series – the first of which won both the Ned Kelly First Fiction and the Davitt Best Debut in 2017. Personally, I’m just delighted to know that there are three others out there already, as well as a stand-alone. 

And there’s no problem in coming to this fourth book as a new reader, if that concerns you. The characters, plot and setting all stand independently. There is the occasional passing reference to events from previous episodes, but nothing to interfere with your fun.

Body of Lies is expertly plotted, with plenty of unexpected twists, mysterious goings-on, and more than enough tension and danger. It’s set in a country town, somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne. We may be reaching saturation with crime novels set in tiny claustrophobic towns where everyone’s known each other since primary school. Of course, we all know some wonderful examples by Australian women writers, but it is good to see a different take on rural Australia. Smithson is a big town, enough to have a large police presence, several schools, a big public hospital, and strong connections with the wider world. 

Gemma is enjoying the domesticity of maternity leave, though she does miss the excitement of police work. And when a woman is deliberately driven off the road and killed, and then her body disappears from the hospital morgue before it can be identified, and then a newborn infant is found abandoned in the bush by the lake, and then… well, no spoilers. Obviously, she’s back in the thick of it, her own baby in a sling, in no time. But why is everybody around her treating her just a bit oddly?

Bailey is an assured writer who can definitely handle a complicated plot involving a lot of complicated people. The pace is fast, with surprises coming often enough to keep the reader on the edge of her seat. The characters are fully rounded, interesting, complex human beings. The writing is strong, vivid and precise. And the story is well structured, with rising tension, unexpected reveals, and an ending that satisfyingly combines closure on the case, justice for (nearly) all, and a raft of new personal and professional challenges for Gemma. 

A particular strength, for me, was the charm of the characters. Gemma herself is delightful: complex, flawed, and self-aware. At times understandably insecure, at other times righteously indignant on behalf of her friends or colleagues, sometimes just getting caught up in the moment, there is a depth to her that makes her feel real. Someone you might like to know. The other characters – her lovely husband, the ambitious new guy from the big smoke who doesn’t seem to like her, her annoying best friend – are equally finely drawn.

Overall, an enjoyable read that kept me up half the night and left me wanting more.