Review: BAY OF FIRES by Poppy Gee

BayOfFiresGeePoppy18543_fThis novel takes its name from its setting: a beautiful stretch of Tasmania’s east coast which does exist in the real world, though here it is given a village, a shop and a camp ground which do not. The spot forms the backdrop for a group of holiday shacks which have been used by the same families for years. Last summer a local teenage girl went missing and hasn’t been seen since, now the body of a young European tourist has been found. And the question on everyone’s mind…is one of them responsible?

My family used to holiday in the same beachside location every summer so I immediately felt a connection to BAY OF FIRES. I even recognised a lot of the just-beneath-the-surface discords on display amongst the regular visitors. Gee does a good job of showing both the monotony and the comfort offered by this sort of set-up and provides two key characters to show the reader what’s really going on in this community.

Sarah Avery offers the insider’s perspective. She is the eldest daughter of one of the regular families and is a somewhat reluctant participant in this year’s holiday, partly because she is coming to grips with some troubles in her personal life. She’s staying with her parents and younger sister. Hall Flynn, a journalist for a Launceston newspaper who has been assigned to cover the story, provides the outsider’s point of view. He takes a room at the guest house at which the girl whose body has been found was staying. Between them, these two piece together the story of what has happened to the two girls, Sarah using her knowledge of the regulars and Hall using his observational skills and ability to ease himself into local events without causing too many ripples.

BAY OF FIRES succeeds as a work of observation about a small community that appears to be close-knit on the surface. The death and disappearance – and the almost total lack of formal progress on either case – highlight all the personality clashes and not-so-petty differences of opinion that have been lying dormant for years. People’s fears lead to finger pointing, attempts at vigilante justice and plain meanness and I found this element of the book – a kind of character study en masse – quite enthralling.

As a work of crime fiction I thought it a little less successful, with the resolution being somewhat obvious and the lack of police presence and progress not being explained terribly satisfactorily. That said, I did appreciate the crime’s unconventional resolution as it seemed to be in keeping with the world Gee had depicted.

Overall this début novel has much to commend it and I will certainly be on the lookout for more of Gee’s writing. In BAY OF FIRES she has demonstrated a flair for depicting evocative settings and the personality shifts that happen to average people when unexpectedly terrible things happen around them.


awwbadge_2013BAY OF FIRES is the 14th book I’ve read as part of this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Kerrie’s review of BAY OF FIRES from earlier this year.

Publisher: Headline [2013]
ISBN: 9780755387847
Length: 309 pages
Format: trade paperback
Creative Commons Licence
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Review: BAY OF FIRES, Poppy Gee

  • Published by Headline Review 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-7553-8784-7
  • 305 pages
  • Available on Amazon

Synopsis (Hatchett.com)

When the body of a backpacker washes ashore in
an idyllic small town in Tasmania, the close-knit community starts to fall apart. As long-buried secrets start to come out, the delicate balance of their fragile lives is threatened…

Deep in a national park on the east coast of Tasmania, the Bay of Fires is an idyllic holiday community. There are no more than a dozen shacks beside the lagoon – and secrets are hard to keep; the intimacy of other people’s lives is their nourishment.

The fact that Sarah Avery has returned, having left her boyfriend and her job, is cause for gossip in itself. Then, the bikini-clad body of a young girl is found washed up on the beach; a year after another teenage girl went missing. Journalist Hall Flynn is sent to the coast to
investigate, and all too quickly the close-knit community turns in on itself.

My Take

The idyllic holiday community at the Bay of Fires has been meeting each summer for years. But things change, children grow up, parents get older, and at the core of what seems like paradise, decay grows.

It takes Hall Flynn’s outsider’s eye to pick some of the fragility.

Deep in the national park on the east coast of Tasmania, three or four hours by car from Launceston, Bay of Fires is sufficiently isolated to make communications slow. The novel is set over the Christmas Day to New Year’s Day holidays.

This time the dead person is an outsider, a backpacker, and no-one is willing to put everything together. The shack owners don’t reveal all they know. Just twelve months earlier one of their own children disappeared without trace and the sea conveniently bore the blame for that too.

Poppy Gee does a clever job of weaving sub-plots, such as why Sarah Avery has come home and why Hall Flynn is not romantically attached, in with the main mystery of what happened to the backpacker.  The tension between the shack owners and the incoming campers is well depicted, as is the willingness to blame a local resident who is not “normal”. Investigating the backpacker’s death is carried out by Sarah and Hall, sometimes together, sometimes independently.

The setting almost plays the role of another character and certainly sent me off researching.

This was an engaging and refreshing read, another new author to watch.

My rating: 4.3

About the Author

Poppy Gee was born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1977. She spends every
summer with her family at their shack in the Bay of Fires. This novel
was written as part of a Masters in Creative Writing, at the University
of Queensland, which Poppy completed in 2011. This is Poppy’s first
published fiction. She has worked as a journalist, editor and book
reviewer and currently teaches journalism and creative writing. Poppy
lives in Queensland with her husband and two beautiful children. She has
nearly completed her next novel, another literary thriller set in the
Tasmanian ski village Ben Lomond.

Author’s website