REVIEW: DARKENING SKIES BY BRONWYN PARRY

DARKENING SKIES

Author: Bronwyn Parry 
Hachette RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

I haven’t read any of Bronwyn Parry’s work before, but she came highly recommended. Darkening Skies is the third book in the loosely-linked Dungirri series, but I didn’t need to worry about coming in cold; the novel can easily be read as a standalone. It’s a romantic suspense, but the romantic elements were underlying rather than at the forefront. If you like stories about deadly secrets being uncovered in a small town, read on!

Eighteen years ago, Paula Barrett was killed when the car she was a passenger in crashed into a tree. Teenager Gil Gillespie was charged with her death; blood tests showed he’d been drinking at the time. But is that what really happened. Local MP and landowner Mark Strelitz, injured in the accident and left with memory loss, is starting to regain his memory, and he believes he was driving. Setting aside his career, he calls for the case to be reopened, and contacts investigative journalist Jenn Barrett, Paula’s cousin, to join him in finding out what really happened that night.

Someone in Dungirri doesn’t want the record set straight. As Jenn and Mark probe old files and media records, revealing an ugly mass of police corruption, mafia activity and dark secrets that affect some of their closest and dearest, witnesses start dying. Whoever’s behind it wants Jenn and Mark stopped – permanently. Together, fighting the re-emergence of long-buried feelings for each other, they have to find out what really happened.

Parry gives readers a different look at life in a rural town – one that’s darker, less rosy than many of her rural fiction counterparts. Dungirri is a town of sinister secrets and it appears that many of the older (and some of the younger) residents have chosen, for whatever reason, to go along with them or pretend they don’t exist. Rather than crotchety or gossipy, some of the secondary characters are downright mean, cruel and slimy. She shies away from romantic or soft characterisation and presents her characters as they are, unblinking in the hot Australian sun. Her characterisation adds to the nervous tension of the novel, making for a restless, fierce read that’s heavy on action as the leads face one life-threatening situation after another.

Despite the darkness of the subject matter, Parry still manages to convey a love for the land, although like the romance, this takes a back seat to the thrills and spills. After being away for many years, travelling far and wide and seeing so much, Jenn is drawn back to her home town even when she doesn’t want to be. Mark, though she doesn’t want to admit it, is part of the draw, but so too is the land – the wide open space, the heat, dust, snakes (!) and mosquitoes, parched rivers and trees lining endless roads. Some novels could be set anywhere, in any small town in any developed country, but the landscape of Darkening Skies is unmistakably Australian.

Aside from the action, Parry also touches on a couple of issues relevant to rural Australia, such as shrinking towns (what does a town like Dungirri have to offer, Jenn asks at one point when tourism is raised) and small-town politics. It’s lightly done, but it enhances the story’s authenticity. The only unreal thing about it was the sheer number of deaths, one after another, once Jenn and Mark start digging. Would I like to live in Dungirri? Probably not, what with the body count and snakes (even if it is pretty in the stark way the Australian can be).

It did take me a little while to settle into reading this because the first chapter was a little confusing – whose story was I meant to be following? Gil’s or Mark’s? However, once I had that settled, I found myself completely engrossed by the tale. It’s fast-paced, well-characterised and all in all, a bonza* read. I’ll be adding more of Parry’s novels to my reading list, that’s for sure.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. This copy was courtesy of Hachette.

*bonza = Aussie slang for excellent, first-rate.

Bookish treat: Not very exciting, but I drank a lovely warming cup of Singaporean instant ginger tea. I had it once after a massage and have been buying it ever since.