The Cane

Maryrose Cuskelly

The Cane
Allen & Unwin
1 February 2022

The Cane

Maryrose Cuskelly


Quala, a North Queensland sugar town, the 1970s.

Barbara McClymont walks the cane fields searching for Janet, her sixteen-year-old daughter, who has been missing for weeks. The police have no leads. The people of Quala are divided by dread and distrust. But the sugar crush is underway and the cane must be burned.

Meanwhile, children dream of a malevolent presence, a schoolteacher yearns to escape, and history keeps returning to remind Quala that the past is always present.

As the smoke rises and tensions come to a head, the dark heart of Quala will be revealed, affecting the lives of all those who dwell beyond the cane.

The Cane is an evocative and atmospheric thriller, and announces an exciting new voice in Australian crime writing.


The northern Queensland town of Quala is reeling: one of its own is missing. Young Janet McClymont walked through the cane fields early one evening to go babysit her neighbours’ kids, but never arrived. Her bag was found, and nothing else. Now her parents trawl through the vast expanse of cane, begging their neighbours not to light the fields for the burn that must happen to harvest the sugar. But the farmers need the sugar, and the fire has to burn. Life has to move on, but nobody in the town wants to let it until they find Janet.

This is a searing, unsettling thriller: the story of a whole town holding tight to their children, and realising nothing will ever be the same. There is Essie, the neighbour’s daughter Janet was babysitting, desperate to seem grown- up next to the newly arrived and world-wise Raelene; Essie’s mother Connie Tranter, once progressive and now finding herself becoming fearful and conservative; Eamonn Sullivan, the new teacher, attempting to bring this 1970s town into a socialist future; and Vince Creadie, who lost his daughter too and only wants to help the best he can. Quala simmers with unrest, as the racism, sexism and fear of its inhabitants takes hold and gossip spreads as fast as fire. The truth will come to light, but it will come, as always, at a cost. Cuskelly’s gripping rural historical tale will leave you listening in the night for the sound of the cane rustling – and what it might be hiding.

Fiona Hardy is a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.

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