Mystery of the Month – Who We Were

An invitation to a high school reunion drops into your inbox. How do you feel? Are you excited to catch up with old friends? Curious to see how your life compares to theirs? Or does the mere thought of high school strike fear into your heart?

The graduates of Macquarie High are experiencing the full gamut of emotions when they receive an invitation to their twenty-year reunion. But there’s something more sinister going on. Because they’re also receiving threats — ominous yearbook entries written by someone who knows their personal information and details of their most private thoughts. Someone is holding a grudge against these former school friends. Someone dangerous.

B.M. Carroll’s Who We Were features a cast of seven main characters and alternates between their points-of-view. The multi-person narrative is becoming ever-popular in the psychological thriller genre and makes for enjoyable reading when it’s done well. And it’s done very well here. Annabel, the most popular girl in school, is now a mother of three children. Nerdy Katy has since reinvented herself and is the instigator of the reunion. Luke isn’t the type of guy to get hung up on the past. High school bully, Zach, swears he’s changed after meeting his wife and becoming a doctor. Melissa, a successful businesswoman, can’t forget her first love, Jarred… but he’s now Annabel’s husband. Grace doesn’t want her children to be the doormat she was at school. And Robbie, who was brutally bullied by the popular kids, has been living rough and hasn’t seen his family in twenty years.

Yearbook entries from the past are used to great effect, comparing each character’s school persona with their present day selves. While twenty years has certainly made a difference, not everyone has managed to cast off those high school labels. While some are eager to demonstrate how much they’ve changed, others are simply unable, or unwilling, to behave differently. Who We Were is a fascinating exploration of how the social relationships of high school can have repercussions lasting long into adulthood.

The author cleverly inserts a few shady characters into the individual narratives of each main character to keep the reader on their toes, wondering — could it be them? Are they the person sending the threats? While this is a quick read with a great hook, punchy language, and plenty of tense moments, it also touches on serious issues such as mental health and teenage drug use. The nail-biting showdown between the perpetrator and their intended victims leads to a satisfying, although tragic, conclusion.

Who We Were is a page-turning story about second chances, misunderstandings, revenge, and what happens when your life doesn’t turn out how you expected it to when you were in high school. It’ll have you thinking about your own school years and wondering if you’d do anything differently. Would you?

Who We Were by B.M. Carroll is published by Allen & Unwin.

Standout Simile:

He can’t stop. It’s like scratching a scab. He’s bleeding but he has to keep gouging.

Mystery of the Month – Where the Truth Lies

Dedicated journalist Chrissie O’Brian thinks she’s onto a big story investigating a number of mysterious workplace accidents at the Melbourne Docklands. But her stories keep getting slashed and instead she’s assigned to a profile piece on solo female crane driver, Masina. Things take a sinister turn when Masina tells Chrissie she’s in danger, and then is found dead the next day – another ‘accident’. As Chrissie digs deeper, yet another worker is killed and a bloodied parcel turns up at her desk. She realises she’s onto something – and she has to get to the truth before it gets to her.

Karina Kilmore’s debut novel Where the Truth Lies is crime fiction at its finest with an intriguing mystery at its core – are these really workplace accidents or are they murders? The plot is complicated by an ongoing dispute between the unions and the wharves, missing cargo, dodgy crane records and financial trouble. Could the unions be staging accidents? Or are the wharves involved in large scale fraud?

Main characters in crime fiction typically have a dark past (that’s what makes them so interesting) and Chrissie is no different. She lives alone, self-medicating with alcohol and painkillers, trying to dull the pain from a past trauma, throwing herself into her work and taking comfort in neighbourhood stray cat, Skinny. The successful career she forged in New Zealand hasn’t translated to Australia; her senior position at The Argus newspaper was given to her as a favour and her news director resents her. But Chrissie’s backstory, involving the tragic loss of her husband and her downward spiral into self-blame and depression, is so heart-breaking that the reader cannot help but feel empathy for her and root for her to succeed.

Like Chrissie, Karina Kilmore is a New Zealand native who lives in Melbourne. An experienced journalist, Kilmore uses her knowledge to great advantage with vivid depictions of the newsroom, crammed with desks and people, and buzzing with noise from televisions, radios and phones. She brings the wharves to life with descriptions of the patchwork of coloured corrugated containers and picketers spinning their clicker rattles high in the air, chanting about safety.

The plot ticks along at a fast pace, the suspense increasing as the story speeds towards a revealing conclusion. Chrissie is hit with several gut-wrenching setbacks – just when she seems to be making headway, she’s forced backwards again. But like all compelling protagonists, she ploughs on, undeterred. Karina Kilmore’s confident writing style and talent for telling a great story, teamed with her flawed but extremely likeable main character, makes it easy to see why this novel was shortlisted for the Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in 2017. Like Chrissie, you’ll be racing to the end to find out who, if anyone, is telling the truth.

Where the Truth Lies by Karina Kilmore is published by Simon & Schuster.

Standout Simile:

She could deal with the visions, the flashbacks, but her other senses remained raw, like bear traps they would jump out of nowhere, crush her throat and screech in her ears.