12.46: Thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley stands alone at a bus stop
12.47: Ted Conkaffey parks his car beside her
12.52: The girl is missing . . .
Six minutes – that’s all it took to ruin Detective Ted Conkaffey’s life. Accused but not convicted of Claire’s abduction, he escapes north, to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake.
Amanda Pharrell knows what it’s like to be public enemy number one. Maybe it’s her murderous past that makes her so good as a private investigator, tracking lost souls in the wilderness. Her latest target, missing author Jake Scully, has a life more shrouded in secrets than her own – so she enlists help from the one person in town more hated than she is: Ted.
But the residents of Crimson Lake are watching the pair’s every move. And for Ted, a man already at breaking point, this town is offering no place to hide . . .
Crimson Lake is one of those novels you want to talk about as soon as you’ve finished reading it, and you want everybody else to read it too so that you can talk about it together. Thankfully, this was my bookclub pick, so I’m going to get to talk about it for two solid hours pretty soon! But in the meantime, I’ll talk about it for a little while here.
For me, this novel worked in so many ways. The characters were authentic, and in the case of Amanda, entirely endearing – yes, she is a convicted killer, but this is what I’m talking about!! – and Ted was a character I developed a lot of empathy for early on in the story.
The structure of the novel was very well done. You really have three stories unfolding, three different criminal cases, intersecting through the characters and their relationship with each other while not actually being directly connected, and it is in this story arrangement that Candice Fox’s skill as a writer really shines. The story unfolds in pieces, each case inching closer to being solved as the novel progresses. Amanda and Ted are working together on the current case; Ted is quietly working on uncovering the truth of Amanda’s case; Amanda is secretly researching Ted’s case. All three cases converge in an excellent climax that maintains the distance. Without spoiling any part of the story, I will just say that the case of the missing author turns out to be rather ingenious in the whole way it plays out. Very unique!
Running through this novel is a sharp undercurrent of justice gone badly wrong. Trial by media is examined, along with the notion of assumptive evidence and corruption unchecked. You can’t help but dwell on the plight of Ted and Amanda within the context of real life and wonder: Who else out there didn’t do it? Who else was just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Who else lives half a life now on account of false accusations?
Crimson Lake is a must read for everyone. You don’t have to be a fan of crime fiction to enjoy this book as it holds it’s own from beginning to end. I highly recommend it for bookclubs, as it’s a novel that gives readers plenty to chew over (those who have already read it will know exactly why I specifically used the word ‘chew’ just then!!).
Crimson Lake is book 10 of my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.