By Petronella McGovern

Publisher/Year: Allen&Unwin/2022

Publisher’s blurb

A wife burning with resentment. A husband hiding the past. Their teenage daughter crusading for the truth. Who can we trust?

The close-knit community of Kinton Bay is shocked when fifteen-year-old Siena Britton makes a grisly discovery near a cave in the national park. Siena believes it’s a skull from the town’s violent colonial past and posts a video which hits the news headlines.

But her parents, Meri and Rollo, think the skull is related to their teenage parties in the Killing Cave back in the 1990s. And a school mate who went missing then.

None of them foresees the dangers that the discovery will create for their family. The dangers of past deceits, silences and lies that have never been resolved.

The Liars is a heart-stopping cocktail of family secrets, sinister unsolved disappearances and a community at war with itself.

Reviewer: Lesley Vick

The Liars is a mystery set in a small coastal town in NSW which is recovering from COVID lockdowns. Kinton Bay is a whale watching town. Tourists are beginning to return so a teenager’s discovery of a human skull in a local cave is not welcome. 15-year-old Siena and her Indigenous friend Kyle believe the skull is from the region’s violent colonial past and a massacre involving the man after whom the town is named. Siena’s parents and their generation fear it is more likely to belong to one of the many people who have disappeared over the years, including someone who went missing 20 years ago when the then teenagers held parties in the so-called Killing Cave.

Other disappearances over the years include a Swiss backpacker, an interstate nurse and a local businessman. Angering her journalist mother Meri and her whale watching cruise operator father Rollo, Siena posts news of her discovery online which spreads the story far and wide, further damaging the town’s reputation.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints, one anonymous, and include the detective investigating the skull mystery. Comments from the anonymous narrator suggest this person has killed before but has remained undetected.

Many contemporary issues are examined in the telling of the story. Chapters begin with information about whales which casts some light on the issues covered. Sexism, racism, homophobia and toxic masculinity abounded 20 years before in Kinton Bay at the time of the Killing Cave parties and do not seem to have dissipated.

No-one likes to talk about what happened all those years ago but, it becomes impossible to keep the secrets and lies concealed as the contemporary investigation continues. When further bones are discovered, the tension grows as more secrets are exposed. The earlier investigation into the missing teenager is exposed as corruptly inadequate and various grudges concealed for years give several characters motives for murder.

Additional tensions arise following the impact the publicity has on the tourist dollar in a town dependent on tourism. Topical contemporary themes are woven effectively through The Liars:whale conservation, recognising the mistreatment of the First Peoples, climate change activism, and teenagers being secretive about sex, alcohol and parties.

The complex characters are convincing and, the small-town gossipy atmosphere is well portrayed. The suspense is gripping and the unpredictable revelation at the end is not only unexpected but extremely thought provoking. A must read.