by Aoife Clifford

Publisher: Ultimo Press, 2024

Publisher’s blurb

So many people had reason to hate her but did anyone have reason to kill her?
Everyone dies famous in a country town, but glamorous Vanessa Walton was a shining star. A celebrity since a television commercial when she was a child, Vanessa is back on the front page for all the wrong reasons; after a terrible storm she has been found dead at the bottom of her stairs.
At first her death seems to be a simple accident, but anonymous letters are discovered that suggest otherwise – and when 16-year-old Jasmine Landridge claims it is murder, she suddenly disappears. As the police begin to investigate, secrets are exposed and friendships unravel. 
What happens to a community when murders and abductions sit alongside petty workmates, teenage tribulations and longstanding friendships? It will take a town to solve this crime, but what will be broken in the effort to piece together the truth?


by Christina Lee

Aoife Clifford’s fourth crime novel shows off her considerable writing talents and interests to great effect. In common with her earlier books, it’s got a tightly interconnected cast of characters, with decades of complicated shared history, in a confined setting – specifically, the imagined small Australian town of Welcome. It starts with a complex plot, and enthusiastically adds layers of ambiguity and inconsistency in every chapter. The style is light, clever and compassionate, drawing this reader in long past her bedtime to read and read and read. The result is a great read, with plenty to say about the human capacity for compromise, self-delusion, and extraordinary bravery.

There’s a large, but well differentiated, cast of characters. Glamorous Vanessa Walton, the only person to ever make it out of Welcome, turns up dead at the foot of the stairs in the first chapter and remains a highly enigmatic character throughout the novel. Pretty much everybody hated her, but enough to kill her? Maybe, maybe not. The police think she probably tripped over a bucket, in the dark during a storm, but did she fall or was she pushed? There’s enough doubt for them to wonder whether the homicide squad might want to get involved.

The point of view switches mainly between Carole Duffy, the new police inspector, fleeing a somewhat ambiguous past in the big smoke of Melbourne, and Frankie Birnam, schoolteacher, mother, and the only nice person in Welcome. But we see the action from the perspective of many other charmingly drawn characters. Mer, Frankie’s horrible best friend, who redeems herself in the end. Jaz and Brianna, two precocious but naïve teenagers, who get seriously out of their depth but survive to go on driving their teachers mad. Billy, a fairly useless police officer, who shows great courage when it is needed. Beth, Vanessa’s overshadowed cousin, who quietly acts for what she thinks is best. 

One of Aoife Clifford’s strengths is her capacity to draw real, believable characters. There are no goodies and baddies here; even nice Frankie doesn’t always act with complete integrity. Mer, the frustratingly awful friend, is a depressed alcoholic in a dead-end job with no respect for other people’s feelings (or possessions, or husbands). But she has a warmth which makes it easy to see why Frankie sticks with her. 

For me, what makes this more than just another small-town mystery is Clifford’s deep understanding of, and compassion for, the human condition. Almost everybody is given a chance of redemption, so that despite a series of distressing events the novel still ends on a note of hope.