Friday, May 31, 2024

Review – The Unbelieved

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Rebecca Rowlings, ARR.News
Rebecca Rowlings, ARR.News
Rebecca Rowlings has always been a voracious reader. Apart from three years in Sydney at university, she has spent her life living in rural and regional areas. She currently lives on Wiradjuri country, teaches at the local high school, runs a secondhand bookstore and furniture restoration business with her amazing husband, and loves being a wife and mother, although there is a downside in the lack of time to read as much as she once could. With an Arts degree majoring in English literature, a background in newspaper journalism and more than a decade spent as an English teacher, she enjoys sharing her insights into some of the books she is able to find time to read (usually late at night).

Winner of the A&U Crime Fiction Prize

If you’re stocking up your summer reading pile, Vikki Petraitis’ debut novel The Unbelieved should definitely be up for your consideration. Petraitis’s home has been the true crime genre, writing and publishing books since 1993. More recently, she has moved into podcasting, which is where I encountered her as a guest on the Australian True Crime podcast and then her own investigative podcast The Vanishing of Vivian Cameron. When I heard she had written a novel, I was keen to read it and so I grabbed a copy as soon as I saw it, in an airport bookshop. My flight was only an hour but I got halfway through the book in that time, as the story grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

The story is set in a fictional Victorian coastal town, and Petraitis draws an evocative picture of small town Australian life. Protagonist Antigone Pollard is a detective who has moved to Deception Bay to escape after a case in Melbourne went horribly wrong. So, some fairly stereotypical crime fiction elements. But when Antigone goes to a CWA meeting as a guest speaker, it is such a familiar small town Australian scene: “The hall doubled as the scouts’ meeting place and was lined with flags and emblems. There was a long trestle table set up at the back, and it was covered with a red-and-white-chequered tablecloth. At one end was a stainless-steel urn surrounded by a sea of white cups and saucers, teabags and a coffee container. At the other end were cling-wrapped plates of cakes and scones.”

It’s a town where everyone knows everyone. The local café knows Antigone’s coffee order before she walks in the door, and an unexpected visitor from Melbourne finds her house by asking at the servo on the way into town. When she needs to de-stress, Antigone goes running along the cliffs of Victoria’s stunning ocean coast.

Of course, even small towns have secrets, and some of the locals have secrets buried far deeper than anyone has realised. Antigone is investigating a series of drink spikings and sexual assaults, and is even attacked herself, only to find that the male witnesses and even her boss don’t believe her version of events. It is a plotline that echoes what we see in the world today, dealing with issues of consent and also of intimate partner violence. Antigone is a determined character fighting to keep women safe from strangers, and from those closer to home, in a society where some people don’t recognise that there’s a problem.

Petraitis’s years of experience in the true crime genre and resulting deep understanding of police procedures gives authenticity to her characters and events. She avoids falling into the trap of formulaic crime fiction, while including the tropes of the genre that readers will expect. The twist near the end that I was waiting for came, but it was multilayered and not predictable or easily puzzled out. The ending leaves plenty of scope for a sequel, and I hope there is one, as I thoroughly enjoyed Detective Antigone Pollard’s first outing and look forward to reading the next instalment.

Author: Vikki Petraitis
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781761067396
Buy through Booktopia

This book review is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.


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