Wimmera
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Wimmera

Mark Brandi

In the long, hot summer of 1989, Ben and Fab are best friends.


Growing up in a small country town, they spend their days playing cricket, yabbying in local dams, wanting a pair of Nike Air Maxes and not talking about how Fab’s dad hits him or how the sudden death of Ben’s next-door neighbour unsettled him. Almost teenagers, they already know some things are better left unsaid.

Then a newcomer arrived in the Wimmera. Fab reckoned he was a secret agent and he and Ben staked him out. Up close, the man’s shoulders were wide and the veins in his arms stuck out, blue and green. His hands were enormous, red and knotty. He looked strong. Maybe even stronger than Fab’s dad. Neither realised the shadow this man would cast over both their lives.

Twenty years later, Fab is still stuck in town, going nowhere but hoping for somewhere better. Then a body is found in the river, and Fab can’t ignore the past any more.

Wimmera is the 2016 Winner of the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger (UK).

Review

Set in small-town Australia in the 1980s, Wimmera is the story of two boyhood friends, Fab and Ben, presented in three parts. Part one is told in schoolboy Ben’s voice: long, hot days of camping, yabbying and playing cricket, schoolyard bullying, sexual awakenings, a new neighbour and a sense of the ominous in the surrounding adult world. Part two is told in Fab’s adult voice: stuck in the same town with dreams of better things, looking back while trying not to. Part three unravels the full story after a body is found in the creek.

Wimmera is a languid, unsettling novel that perfectly captures life in small-town Australia, from the 1980s television shows and celebrities to the heat, bugs and dust. Mark Brandi is excellent at concealing, allowing the reader to join the dots, until the end when the slow reveal is perhaps even more shocking than imagined. Given the substantial list of award wins and shortlistings that the unpublished manuscript has already received, including the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award, it’s clear that the reader is in the hands of a master storyteller. Comparisons are already being made to Jane Harper’s The Dry and Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. This is literary crime fiction at its best.


This review was first published in an issue of Books & Publishing.

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