Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster Australia/2021
Some secrets you try to hide. Others you don’t dare let out …
Twin Peaks meets The Dry in a deliciously dark and twisted tale that unravels a small Australian country town
Ambitious young journalist Marlowe ‘Lo’ Robertson would do anything to escape the suffocating confines of her small home town. While begrudgingly covering the annual show for the local newspaper, Lo is horrified to discover the mutilated corpse of her best friend – the town’s reigning showgirl, Lily Williams.
Seven strange symbols have been ruthlessly carved into Lily’s back. But when Lo reports her grisly find to the town’s police chief, he makes her promise not to tell anyone about the symbols. Lo obliges, though it’s not like she has much of a choice – after all, he is also her father.
When Lily’s murder makes headlines around the country and the town is invaded by the media, Lo seizes the opportunity to track down the killer and make a name for herself by breaking the biggest story of her life.
What Lo uncovers is that her sleepy home town has been harbouring a deadly secret, one so shocking that it will captivate the entire nation.
Lo’s story will change the course of her life forever, but in a way she could never have dreamed of.
Reviewer: Narrelle Harris
One gets the feeling that author Nicola West didn’t particularly enjoy growing up in Kiama – she’s made the coastal NSW town a Wicker Man-esque setting for a novel of small-town prejudice and deeply weird crime. West is noted to have drawn from her own life as well as local events and urban legends for inspiration.
Catch Us the Foxes – a title referring to the Bible verses of the Song of Solomon – begins with successful author, Marlowe Robertson, speaking at a Sydney Opera House event about her best-selling book, The Showgirl’s Secret. Three pages later, introduced with a suitable ‘cover page’, we are immersed in Marlowe’s first person account of the murder of her childhood friend Lily Williams. Marlowe stumbled on Lily’s body at the local showgrounds and discovered a series of gruesome symbols carved into Lily’s back.
Marlowe’s policeman father makes her promise not to speak of the markings to anyone. But Marlowe, journalist in training, is determined to discover the truth of the marks and what her father’s involvement may be.
With those markings, the whole Wicker Man vibe is established early on. Small town secrets, arcane rituals, fears of deeply embedded conspiracy inform Marlowe’s investigations and draw the reader in. Yet the creepiness in undermined by doubt in due course. Are prominent members of the Kiama community really involved in disturbing masked rituals or is Marlowe falling into trauma-induced paranoia? Had Lily really uncovered a plot or was she subject to some other mental disturbance? The return of Jarrah Watson – a boy driven from Kiama by homophobia – muddies the waters in both directions.
By the time we reach the end of Marlowe’s ‘book’, the twisty plot has led us on quite the chase. And then, almost as we’ve forgotten there was even a framing device, we return to the Sydney Opera House and Marlowe’s public appearance.
West’s writing flows well and has great pace, making Catch Us the Foxes an engaging and exciting read. The tone of cryptic, creepy small town secrets smack of The Wicker Man and even Twin Peaks (with both the deceased Lily and the obsessive Marlowe having a Laura Palmer air about them) but that mood is woven around the concept of psychological thriller as well. The juxtaposition can sometimes feel disconnected, though, and the final twist leaves a few too many ‘whys’ unexplored.
Nevertheless, Catch Us the Foxes is an entertaining read and shows promise for West’s future books.