Georgie Harvey is a Melbourne-based writer who starts looking for a possibly missing elderly woman from the nearby country town of Daylesford as a favour to a friend. In that town John Franklin, one of the local policemen, is investigating a series of threatening letters being sent to new mothers in the area and he’s not too interested when Georgie tries to involve police in her hunt for the missing Susan Pentecoste. But Georgie becomes convinced Susan’s sudden disappearance is more sinister than it appears on the surface as she starts to uncover links to major incident five years earlier.
Rural settings have had something of a resurgence in local publishing in recent years so it doesn’t surprise me to see a crime novel labelled as the first in a series of rural crime files. Happily though this is more than just bandwagon-jumping as Wallace clearly knows the locations in which the events she depicts take place, making the setting of this novel is one of its strengths and giving the reader a sense of the realities of small town life.
The story too is well constructed with both plot lines developing nicely over the course of the novel. Although there are the requisite red herrings I liked the fact that the resolution to both major plot elements were grounded in reality and didn’t get lost down rabbit holes involving the kind of lunatics you only find in fiction as I feared might happen towards the beginning of the novel.
I also enjoyed the way the main characters were developed. Both are strong characters with lots of good qualities and some annoying ones, like most people, and are very believable. John Franklin’s troubles as a single parent, including the impact this has on his career aspirations, is well drawn as is Georgie’s desire to hang on to the few family-like connections she has in her life. For me the romantic tension between these two characters felt forced and unnecessary but I’ll admit to being almost completely fed up with the “will they, won’t they” kind of plot line.
Overall though TELL ME WHY is an above average debut novel with lots of promise for future instalments. It feels very Australian without relying on out-dated clichés and has a good story with engaging characters. I’ll be keeping an eye out for rural crime files number two.
Publisher: Clan Destine Press 
Length: 330 pages
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