‘Clarke is illuminated with such wonderful, vivid characters. Rarely have I felt so deeply invested in a story - I loved this book so much. Throsby is a supremely gifted storyteller, and Clarke truly is a wonder.’ Mark Brandi
On a hot morning in 1991 in the regional town of Clarke, Barney Clarke (no relation) is woken by the unexpected arrival of many policemen: they are going to search his backyard for the body of a missing woman.
Next door, Leonie Wallace and little Joe watch the police cars through their kitchen window. Leonie has been waiting six years for this day. She is certain that her friend Ginny Lawson is buried in that backyard.
But the fate of Ginny Lawson is not the only mystery in Clarke. Barney lives alone in a rented house with a ring on his finger, but where is Barney’s wife? Leonie lives with four-year-old Joe, but where is Joe’s mother?
Clarke is a story of family and violence, of identity and longing, of unlikely connections and the comedy of everyday life. At its centre stands Leonie Wallace, a travel agent who has never travelled, a warm woman full of love and hope and grief, who would do anything in the world for Joe.
When the police officers arrive at Barney’s house, nobody on the street is surprised. It’s been years since Ginny Lawson disappeared from that home, and everybody’s been waiting for confirmation of the inevitable truth: that she is buried under the concrete in the backyard. Barney, however, is a bit surprised, since he only moved into the house recently and wasn’t aware of the property’s shocking past. The past few years have been pretty hard for him – as has driving around Clarke, reliving memories that are too raw – and now there’s a bunch of police in his yard, which isn’t helping matters, but is at least quite diverting. His neighbour, Leonie, is relieved that something is finally happening since the cops didn’t seem to care much about Ginny when she disappeared. The past few years have been pretty hard for her too, and now she’s looking after four-year-old Joe, who loves her dearly but misses his mother. Leonie misses her too. And Ginny. And the life she hasn’t quite got around to living yet.
Holly Throsby brings a warm familiarity to the 1991 depicted on these pages – the heat, the snacks, the television, the whole world as vividly detailed as it felt 30 years ago. Clarke is a town that aches with sadness, hope and love as Leonie and Barney move through it, both waiting to see what the police find buried in that yard. The more they wonder, the more they hear about the details everybody dismissed during Ginny’s disappearance, and what now seems obvious: that the man behind it was her abusive husband, Lou.
Clarke is a glorious slow-burn mystery, but it is also much more. It is a time capsule of a period in Australia’s history, a slow release of sadness and guilt, and a story of two people who can’t see what everybody else can – and who may hold the answers to more questions than they realise.
Fiona Hardy is a bookseller, author, and our monthly crime fiction columnist.
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