Little Secrets

Written by Anna Snoekstra

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


Little Secrets
HQ
RRP: £11.94
Released: October 17 2017
PBK

Somewhere in the Australian outback the town of Colmstock is dying. The mine and the automotive plant have closed and the only steady work is the chicken factory or one of the two bars, although illegally there’s a good income to be made importing meths to supply the homeless “fossikers” who make their own living scavenging for emeralds to sell on the black market.

The country is a nothing place outside the town limits, the lake is toxic, the heat is searing. In this unpromising environment where her mother de-beaks chicken all day and the cops are atavistic apes with a lethal veneer of authority Rose Blakey, barmaid and dogsbody, has two ambitions: to get out of Colmstock and become a journalist. She writes, copiously and continually, garnering rejection slips until someone starts to place dolls outside houses occupied by little girls.

Rose has her opportunity, her scoop, and she takes full advantage, linking the mystery gifts with the probable presence of a paedophile in the community and emailing a report to a city tabloid that favours sensational stuff.  Her piece is accepted and follow-ups requested. The town smoulders, the police are at a loss, sinister notes arrive from the writer now dubbed the Doll Collector. Rose flourishes, exposing incompetent cops who turn as nasty as only sexist homophobes can turn. This story has none of the innocence of Walkabout nor the gallantry of Nevil Shute; this is another side of Oz, its sorry underbelly, and one’s sympathy for Rose increases until we are longing for the murder that must surely come.

Throughout the novel the ostensible plot seems no more than background in the face of the two threads that fight for dominance: violence and abuse towards The Other, epitomised by women and gays, and the passionate determination of one woman to  attain her goal: pulling herself up by her bootstraps, learning by her ghastly mistakes. As you see Rose’s future brighten – if only she chooses the right man or the right course – all hell erupts.

Gentle readers may skip the torture, purists shy at unfamiliar grammar, but the first is familiar redneck brutality and as for the second: the story is told from the characters’ points of view: dialogue and narrative alike; this is their speech and syntax but, in Rose’s pieces designed for publication, she demonstrates that her English is as correct as her style is crafted. Here is a journalist in the making, already a competent reporter - and an admirable survivor.



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