Simon Sawyer is 11 years old when he and his parents travel to Reception, a small town on the east coast of Australia, to visit Simon’s grandmother who the family have been estranged from for some years. On the advice of one of the locals Simon’s parents decide to do some sightseeing before their visit to grandma and Simon stays at their motel by himself. He dozes off when he wakes at 10:00pm that night he realises his parents have not returned and he soon learns that no one has seen them since the afternoon. He is taken in by a widowed B&B owner who has an odd collection of family and guests.
As a born and bred city girl it is the small town with its thin veneer of civility hiding an evil heart that is always guaranteed to scare me witless and Currie has created yet another atmospheric excuse for me to stay safely within the confines of my anonymous urban sprawl. Reception is not the kind of town tourist bureaus would highlight, harbouring all manner of dark secrets and people who have fled other, mostly problem-filled lives to settle there. There’s a real sinister mood to the novel as readers are introduced to a succession of gloomy characters such as the ageing and secretive crab fisherman, the guilt-ridden policewoman, the widowed B&B owner and his peculiar children. This family takes in Simon while the search for his parents gets underway which introduces Simon to his grandmother, a permanent guest at the B&B and yet another Reception resident with secrets to hide.
I’m not a huge fan of books which feature children as main characters as they are often given more adult traits than the average kid. However Simon is believably drawn, capturing the mixture of burgeoning independence and fear at possibly being all alone in the world quite beautifully. His interactions with the B&B owner’s two children, still recovering from the loss of their mother several years earlier, and Pony, an orphan boy who lives there too, are also very believable. These relationships and the children’s’ reactions to unfolding events add an interesting perspective to this story which is, in essence, the opposite of the more traditional missing child mystery.
The story itself is good though for me it was a slightly weaker element of the book than the excellent characters and atmosphere. Although I found it compelling enough to want to read on quickly there were just a few too many implausible happenings for me to be wholly sucked in. The resolution in particular was not quite as satisfying as I’d have liked; I didn’t mind the loose ends but felt a little cheated by the very vaguely described outcome of the main plot thread. Overall though I thought this a solid debut novel and will be keen to read more from its young author. Its mixture of influences, which clearly include some horror and science fiction in addition to mysteries, and evocative writing style made for a quick, engaging and unpredictable read.
I first came across THE OTTOMAN MOTEL via this interview with the author at my favourite Australian news site
My rating: 3.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website: http://furioushorses.com/
Publisher: Text Publishing 
Length: 290 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: borrowed from the library