By Bronwyn Hall
Publisher: HQ Fiction 2023
Every town needs somewhere to hide their secrets.
Andy King knew she should never return to Stonefield. Ten years ago, her boyfriend Will Hoffman disappeared without a trace and most people in the town thought she was to blame. But a decade is a long time to be homesick, and she isn’t technically going back there. Only to Taplin, a small town in the neighbouring valley, far enough away from Stonefield she can stay under the radar, but close enough to the mountains that she can feel their pulse and breathe their special brand of oxygen. And it’s only for four weeks, after all.
But Andy didn’t bargain on running into those who are still looking for Will, the ones who have the most to lose if he is ever found. Andy will go to her grave before she reveals what had happened back then, but when she realises that those same people have other secrets hidden in the mountains, it’s clear she’s once again in their way. And this time sending her to her grave is exactly their intention.
by Jane Patrick
This second book by Melbourne author Bronwyn Hall is a rollicking yarn set in mountain ash country in north-eastern Victoria. Vet and former equestrienne, Andy King, returns as a short-term locum to a small town in the valley next to the one in which she grew up. She and her father left the nearby town of Stonefield 10 years ago under a cloud of suspicion after the death and disappearance of two school friends. The memories and secrets attached to the circumstances of that departure have haunted her, and others, ever since. The Chasm of the title plays a central role in the story as do the beautifully described natural surroundings in which Andy works while attempting to remain distant from the locals who may, or may not, hold the secrets of the past.
The incidental descriptions of the work of a rural, large animal veterinarian are realistic, entertaining, and engaging. The story progresses at a steady pace introducing local characters including tall, handsome, musical, and empathetic Ethan. The natural environment provides a backdrop of solace and calm, but the reader is also reminded that being in a rural environment does not mean escape from the criminal issues facing city folk, including a secret meth lab. Will Andy be able to maintain her distance, or will memories of past events be revived? Will the locals be friendly, or will they regard Andy as a potential threat? It soon becomes apparent that the forces of past and present criminality are very much in evidence and that Andy may become entangled. The excitement ramps up and Andy must use her considerable wits and riding prowess to save herself and Ethan from the baddies whilst remaining true to her best and oldest friend. That friend’s background story and present situation is handled sensitively and well.
The author has a very assured writing style and sustains gripping excitement and fast paced action. It becomes apparent that a central figure from the past events is involved in present criminality and that he will stop at nothing, including the use of dogs and drones, to cover up his wrongdoing. The extent of Andy’s derring-do and the endurance of her two- and four-footed friends stretches credulity at times but that all seems part of the fun.
Crimes and mysteries are central to the story, but the facts are largely revealed through Andy’s thoughts and conversations. This is not conventional crime fiction of the type that involves the unravelling of clues or someone seeking to solve a mystery. It is Andy’s return which sets off the events which finally and dramatically shed light on the dark secrets of the past. The tension lies in wondering whether Andy will be able to deal with the consequences of the past, and the growing realisation of where her affections really lie, rather than the solving of a crime.
This is an interesting and entertaining read with relatable characters set in a beautiful part of our country.