by Anna Downes

Publisher: Affirm Press, 2024

Publisher’s blurb

On the Coral Coast of Western Australia, solo traveller Katy is on a mission to find her free-spirited sister, Phoebe, who disappeared along the same route a year ago. But as she drives her campervan further into the wild north, Katy realises she’s not as alone as she’d first believed. Soon she is pulled into a complicated web of secrets, lies, myths and stories that force her to question everything she thought she knew about her sister. 
In this nerve-shredding outback thriller, our obsessions with freedom and beauty collide with our fear of what lies in the wilderness, and the truth behind Phoebe’s disappearance proves stranger and darker than Katy could ever have guessed…


by Zoe Deleuil

Set on West Australia’s Coral Coast, Anna Downe’s third psychological suspense novel has the natural momentum of a pacey road trip narrative. As with her first novel, The Safe Place, Downes skilfully evokes a vivid setting where nothing is quite as it seems and then lets her characters work their way out, taking the reader along for the ride in all its gritty detail. 

Our protagonist, Katy, is searching for her missing sister, Phoebe, who disappeared a year ago, leaving nothing but a series of breathlessly captioned Instagram photos of her solo journey. The police have lost interest and Katy has little to go on. From the start, this is no ordinary van life adventure but one with a sinister edge. When she’s joined by another traveller, Beth, the pace picks up further as these two wary strangers gradually get to know and trust one another. Are they being stalked? Who can be seen in the background of Phoebe’s perfectly framed images? And who are the anonymous posters studying those photos and sending her messages?  

Another thing I don’t like are the comments. Beneath each entry are a handful of remarks from readers, random people who think they knew her just because they had travel in common. We travellers are like one happy family, someone wrote under one post. It made me want to write back and explain what the word ‘family’ means. Actually, it made me want to scream. Now I avoid reading them. I don’t like what they do to my heart. 

This novel raises valuable and timely questions around what it means to share the intimate details of our lives with strangers, both its real-life dangers and its psychological impact. The writing is excellent and almost filmic, cleverly drawing on our obsession with notorious real-life disappearances across Australia and existing narratives of hapless travellers in strange lands, such as Wolf Creek and The Blair Witch Project

As in The Safe Place, Downes lays out a trail of unsettling clues for the reader that hint at what is really going on, until the final, satisfying and unexpected twist that explains everything that has gone before. Put down your phone and pick up Red River Road.