Set in Cairns, the grim but gripping “Crimson Lake” tells the story of an investigation by two unusual private detectives, one a convicted murderer and the other an ex-policeman charged but not tried for the abduction and rape of a thirteen-year-old girl, into the disappearance and possible murder of an author of fantasy novels that have a cult following.
There aren’t that many books set in “The Top End” of Australia and even fewer with such apparently unsympathetic main characters but Candice Fox manages to make the location and the people work to produce a compelling read.
Ted Conkaffey, the accused cop is interesting because he looks (very) guilty. He’s been worn down by the process of being imprisoned and released without trial. He’s lost everything from his former life, wife, daughter, reputation, friends. He has nothing left, not even a reason to see tomorrow. Yet you still can’t be sure whether or not he did the things he’s accused of.
Ted would be an easy person to dislike but he wins our sympathy, slowly, through his kindness to animals (a wounded goose and her goslings) his openmindedness about his convicted-murderer business partner, Amanda Pharrell and the courage with which he stands up to the two local cops who are determined to make his life a misery.
Tatto-wearing, bicycle-riding. afraid-of-no-one Amanda Pharrell is a wonderful creation. She manages to be full of life, sometimes, even joy, and yet is different in a way that reads as damaged. Except for some paragraphs in the epilogue, we don’t get inside her head yet her presence, her directness, her courage, even her compulsive rhyming dominates the book.
Together, Ted and Amanda make more sense than either of them do alone and that gives their story power.
The tropical environment becomes almost a character in the book: the constant humidity, the lurking crocs, the snakes, miles of emptiness, the forests and the beaches give a wild, other-things-are-possible-here feel to the book.
The intensity of Crimson Lake’s main characters and its setting is amplified by having three plots tightly plaited together: Ted’s case, Amanda’s case, the disappeared author’s case and spicing them with two unpleasant cops, an untrustworthy reporter, local vigilantes, freaky fans and an author with a secret life.
All this made “Crimson Lake” a high impact thriller that was very satisfying to read.
Sequel “Redemption Point” or “Redemption” in the audiobook version is already out and a third book is planned.
I listened to the audiobook version of “Crimson Lake”, performed with muscular skill by Euan Morton. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of his work.