I was reading another book, quite a good book… but then Where the Dead Go appeared on my Kindle on August 5 (thanks to my pre-order). I immediately started reading it, and the other book was soon forgotten.
This is Sarah Bailey’s third novel featuring Detective Gemma Woodstock – the first being The Dark Lake about the murder of a high school teacher in Gemma’s hometown, Smithson, and the second novel Into the Night set in Melbourne with Gemma investigating the death of a celebrity.
Where the Dead Go is set four years after the events of Into the Night. Gemma now works in Sydney but a death in the family has forced her to return to Smithson. Gemma is no stranger to death. Her adolescence saw the loss of both her mother and her boyfriend, and it’s the nature of her job as a detective to work closely with the deceased. But this particular tragedy has hit her hard and she’s looking for a distraction. So when her old boss, Jonesy, mentions they’re looking for a stand-in to investigate the murder of a young man in Fairhaven, Gemma jumps at the chance. Before long, she’s ignoring her father’s advice not to make hasty decisions and arriving in the coastal town of Fairhaven with her eight-year-old son, Ben, in tow.
This time, Gemma is the boss. Leadership suits her as she rises to meet all of the challenges she is faced with – a prickly Constable to work with, some nasty threats and having her competence called into question. Her knack for solving tricky mysteries comes in handy when she finds herself investigating not only the homicide but also the disappearance of the victim’s girlfriend, fifteen-year-old Abbey.
Sarah Bailey is particularly skilled at writing vivid settings – her descriptions of the vast ocean, sunburnt tourists and salty air bring to life the fictional Fairhaven. The northern NSW town is populated with a cast of intriguing characters all strategically positioned to misdirect the reader – an indisposed chief inspector, a handsome and genial publican, an indefatigable journalist, a few boisterous British backpackers, a soothsaying itinerant, and some dope pushing parents. And as Gemma delves further into Abbey’s home life, she uncovers a family dealing with some very serious issues.
All the while, Gemma is true to form – throwing herself into her work and avoiding her personal problems. And once again, she is letting the events of the past drag her down. This time it’s her guilt over another missing girl case, one she didn’t solve and something which she views as the lowest point of her career. She wears her guilt like heavy chain mail, desperate to find Abbey to atone for the girl she couldn’t save. She pushes away her partner, Mac, who seems a genuinely good match for her and beats herself up over whether she can be the parent that Ben needs.
But even when you are frustrated with Gemma and some of the decisions she makes, you’re still rooting for her to succeed. She has a hard shell but underneath lies an unfailing hope that she will find Abbey alive and an overwhelming love for her son, both traits which make her appealing and relatable.
I raced through this book, as I’ve done with all of Sarah Bailey’s novels. It feels like this may be the last we’ll see of Gemma, which is a shame as I’ve enjoyed reading about her over the past three years. But whatever Sarah writes next, she has surely amassed plenty of fans who will race to get their hands on it come the release date.
Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey is published by Allen & Unwin.
Insects bleat like a faulty smoke alarm, and I smack my arm to dislodge a feasting mosquito.