A review by Nalini Haynes
Jean is in her final year of high school in Goodwood, a small Australian country town in 1992, when people start to go missing. First it’s Rosie White, a year older than Jean, who disappears without a trace leaving everything behind. Then, a week later, it’s Bart Macdonald, the local butcher, who always had a kind word for everyone — well, almost everyone.
Jean’s uncle, Mac, is the local (and only local) police officer, investigating the disappearances, calling in help and seeking advice from his out-of-town superiors when necessary.
Many townfolk are eccentric but caring, everyone the centre of their own stories and some a little slow to divulge what they know.
The Goodwood Progress Association soldiers on in the face of Bart’s disappearance and his wife the secretary’s subsequent incapacity. Meetings are taken up with gossip or minor happenings while their intended work is put on hold.
Romance in this little town is not dead, it’s drowning in the drying river. Ethan, who likes Jean, takes her to look at cows. Meanwhile, Jean is obsessed with a new teenager in town, a relationship that is more lust than love. (Lust focuses on looks while love needs an actual relationship to flourish.)
In a time before mobile phones, when diving a river and searching the shore were the ways to find someone suspected of drowning, during the real-world discovery of hitchhikers’ bodies in Belanglo Forest, Goodwood’s mysteries unfold. I guessed part but not the whole of the mysteries well before the finale and yet there was sufficient misdirection to make me doubt my conclusions.
Like The Dressmaker, Goodwood exposes the workings of a small town with residents spying on one another, visits to the police station and a budding romance. Unlike The Dressmaker, Goodwood is more whodunnit and coming-of-age, less dark but still quietly comedic. This is a story that can be read as YA because the primary point of view is a teenager coming of age but it’s also an adult’s whodunnit with comedic exposure of the intricacies of communities. Overall, it’s literary social satire.
This debut novel is receiving much acclaim; it will be included in significant shortlists and possibly win awards.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Allen & Unwin