SHORT & SWEET REVIEW: TELL ME WHY BY SANDI WALLACE

Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet). 

I quite enjoy a good crime read, so when author Sandi Wallace approached me to review her debut novel, Tell Me Why, I found myself agreeing despite a heavy review shelf. What attracted me initially was the setting – this book is set in rural/small-town Victoria, a place I’m familiar with. Tell Me Why is the first in Wallace’s new Rural Crime Files series, featuring investigative writer Georgie Harvey and maverick cop John Franklin.

Melbourne writer Georgie Harvey heads to the mineral springs region of central Victoria to look for a missing farmer. There she uncovers links between the woman’s disappearance and her dangerous preoccupation with the unsolved mystery surrounding her husband. Maverick cop and solo dad John Franklin is working a case that’s a step up from Daylesford’s usual soft crime; a poison-pen writer whose targets are single mothers. Georgie’s investigation stirs up long-buried secrets and she attracts enemies. When she reports the missing person to the local cops, sparks fly between her and Franklin. Has he dismissed the writer too quickly?

A country cop, city writer, retired farmer and poison-pen stalker all want answers. What will they risk to get them? What will be the ultimate cost?

Two unrelated crime plots in Tell Me Why draw together writer Georgie Harvey and police officer John Franklin in Daysleford, Victoria. It’s an antagonistic relationship from the outset, with Franklin resenting Harvey’s “interference” and Harvey frustrated by Franklin’s (and his colleagues) dismissal of her concerns and discoveries in a missing person case. The two are more similar than they realise, both having maverick tendencies that lead them to do things their way. Underlying the antagonism and the cases they are working on is a simmering attraction that opens the way for the next book in the series.

Simmering is the word for much of Tell Me Why. The book takes a while to reach a boil, which could be an issue for those who like their books fast-paced, but works because it enhances the sense of place Wallace deftly creates – the slow, small-town atmosphere where things get done in their own time. Wallace throws a few red herrings in the reader’s way, and for much of the novel, it’s unclear whether the missing woman is missing voluntarily or whether something more sinister has happened, thus adding to tension throughout.

Wallace writes edgy, realistic dialogue, and this is one of the novel’s biggest strengths, aside from the sense of place. Although some aspects of the missing woman plot didn’t strike me as fully believable, I found Tell Me Why to be an overall good crime read from an Australian author to watch out for.

Available from Clandestine Press or online bookstores in paperback and eBook format.