Fa­mil­iar trope makes way for a grip­ping thriller

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Sue Green

It’s a fa­mil­iar trope: lo­cal girl made good re­turns to the town she es­caped 20 years ear­lier and vowed not to re­visit. El­iza Car­mody, ju­nior part­ner in a city law firm, is re­luc­tantly back in beach­side Kin­sale.

She is not plan­ning to stick around, es­pe­cially given that in a class-ac­tion law­suit over a bush­fire that killed eight peo­ple two years ago, she is act­ing not for her home town but for the power com­pany.

“The first day I started work­ing on the case, I looked at the list of the dead, eight of them. I read their names and traced my one de­gree of sep­a­ra­tion from each of them — school, fam­ily friends, vaguely re­mem­bered faces from the beach or shops — and then put the pa­per in my fil­ing cab­i­net. Some­times the only way to cope is to sep­a­rate out bits of your life and keep them in soli­tary con­fine­ment.”

But as El­iza’s rental car inches for­ward, ve­hi­cles banked up in the hol­i­day traf­fic, she witnesses a road rage in­ci­dent that leaves one man’s life in the bal­ance and an­other man on the run. And El­iza knows who the sec­ond man is. She went to school with him.

Within seven pages Aoife Clif­ford has sub­verted the trope and the reader is hooked. The ten­sion is high, the pace rapid and the plot primed to keep the pages turn­ing.

Mel­bourne-based Clif­ford had an award­win­ning best­seller with her 2016 de­but All These Per­fect Strangers, a crime novel that also evoked the claus­tro­pho­bic, se­cre­tive world of a small town and its da­m­ag­ing parochial­ism. In Sec­ond Sight she takes the drama even fur­ther to cre­ate a suc­cess­ful thriller. It be­comes much more than the po­lice hunt for Luke Tyrrell, al­though it is also that, and com­pli­cated by the fact that the lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cer, Se­nior Sergeant Gavin Paw­ley, is El­iza’s brother-in-law.

He is mar­ried to El­iza’s sis­ter Tess, with whom she has a strained re­la­tion­ship. The cou­ple live in what was El­iza and Tess’s fam­ily home. Their mother died when El­iza was four. Their fa­ther, who was pre­vi­ously the town’s se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer, is now in care af­ter a car ac­ci­dent. El­iza, who tells her­self she has al­ready said her good­byes, does not plan to visit. But the one Kin­sale child­hood friend with whom she re­mains in con­tact, preg­nant GP Amy Liu, is hav­ing none of that. Clif­ford in­ter­sperses the here and now with rec­ol­lec­tions of New Year’s Eve 1996, when El­iza, Amy and their friend Grace sneaked away to meet three guys on a de­serted beach. One of them was Luke Tyrrell.

As El­iza’s in­volve­ment with Luke that night is grad­u­ally re­vealed, so too is the life of the road rage vic­tim. The po­lice, while search­ing for Luke, dis­cover hu­man bones at The Cas­tle, a de­serted man­sion that is a lo­cal land­mark. As El­iza thinks back on that New Year’s Eve, she re­mem­bers Grace, who fan­cied Luke, run­ning from the beach, dis­traught.

El­iza is drawn as a young woman con­fronted at work by sex­ism and the glass ceil­ing. The “do what it takes’’ ethos of the law firm sits un­com­fort­ably with her.

Clif­ford’s in­ter­wo­ven themes let her tackle sig­nif­i­cant con­tem­po­rary is­sues, in­clud­ing fam­ily re­la­tion­ships and mis­un­der­stand­ings and the trauma wrought on a town by bush­fire and death. Then there are the se­crets both fam­i­lies and small towns can har­bour, and the im­pact of the past on the present. is a writer and critic.

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