Desert Isle Keeper
In the Deep
Loreth Anne White is one of my favourite authors, and I’m always ready to get stuck into a new book by her. Her latest novel, In the Deep, is a fabulous read, a superbly constructed, clever thriller surrounding a murder that takes place in the Agnes Banks area of New South Wales, and I was pulled in straight away and hooked until the very end.
The book opens on the dramatic scene of the arrival of a murder suspect at the court where she is to be tried for the murder of her husband. The car is greeted by angry crowds calling for justice, reporters, photographers, people waving mobile phones – and when she and her lawyer exit the car, they’re surrounded by journalists eager for quotes. It’s hard for her not to react to some of the horrible things being shouted at her, and as she’s swept inside, she can’t help asking herself how she’s come to be here. When did it begin?
We then skip back to just over a year earlier, and to the discovery of a dead body in a swampy channel off the Agnes River. Senior Constable Lauren – Lozza – Bianchi has reason to believe it to be that of property developer Martin Creswell-Smith, who was last seen heading out to sea in his boat four days earlier. Which begs the question – if he’d gone overboard at his last known position ten klicks out to sea, how has his body come to be tangled up in a clump of illegal crab-pot lines in the Agnes Basin? When Lozza and her fellow officer inspect the body more closely, they can see it’s been mutilated – clearly Creswell-Smith’s death was no accident.
Skipping back almost another year, we meet Ellie Hartley, a young woman whose life fell apart following the death by drowning of her three-year-old daughter Chloe. Ellie blames herself for what happened; her marriage broke down under the weight of grief and guilt and Ellie became dependent on drugs and alcohol. But she’s gradually emerging from that dark place of tragedy and despair and now, at the beginning of a new year, is determined to make a new beginning for herself.
That new beginning gets underway quickly after Ellie meets the handsome, charming Martin Creswell-Smith. He’s in Vancouver seeking investors for his latest project – the development of a luxury resort in New South Wales – and over the following months, Martin drops in and out of Ellie’s life, whisking her away on exotic, romantic vacations at a moment’s notice, his attentiveness and understanding making her feel special and wanted. After they marry – at Ellie’s suggestion – while they’re in Vegas on one of their whirlwind trips, Ellie packs up her old life and moves with Martin to Australia.
Which is when things start to go very, very wrong.
I really don’t want to say too much about the plot, which is diabolically clever, and will work best if you go in knowing as little as possible. I think I can safely say that it’s fairly obvious to the reader right from the start that Martin isn’t at all what he seems, but that’s just about all you’re going to get from me!
Loreth Anne White has penned a fast-paced, gripping tale of psychological suspense that will slowly tie you up in knots, each turn of the screw ratcheting up the tension and the stakes that little bit more. The characters are complex and three-dimensional; none of them are particularly likeable, but they’re compelling nonetheless, and at the centre is Ellie, riddled with insecurities and battling addiction, an unreliable narrator who should, given what she’s been through, elicit the reader’s sympathy, but who has an edge to her that means we’re never quite sure if she’s killer or victim.
One of the themes running through the book is that of misdirection, the ability of the trickster “to make us all look at thing one way while something is slipped past us another way.” The author brilliantly uses such devices herself to tell the reader one thing and show them another, to imply that characters are one thing, and then another – and ultimately, to deliver a real coup de grâce towards the end which was so utterly brilliant that I put down my Kindle to give her a round of applause.
“The magician is much the same as a storyteller-a trickster who uses misdirection, sleight of hand, to manipulate a person’s beliefs about the world.”
Everything else about the book works wonderfully, too, from the structure – the split between Ellie’s story “Now” and “Then”, interspersed with scenes of the murder investigation – to the vividly described locations, which enable the reader to feel the sweltering heat and humidity, see the bizzare flying foxes, hear the screeching of the Kookaburras and smell the Eucalyptus trees. I also appreciated those moments of insight the author offers into the perception of mental illness and those who have survived it.
In the Deep is a remarkable piece of storytelling, a riveting tale of emotional manipulation, betrayal and palpable fear that will keep you glued to its pages from first to last.
Note: This book contains one scene (not graphic) of sexual assault and the implication that others have taken place.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
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