Book Review: Vanishing Falls by Poppy Gee

Vanishing Falls…

About the Book:

Celia Lily is rich, beautiful, and admired. She’s also missing. And the search for the glamorous socialite is about to expose all the dark, dirty secrets of Vanishing Falls…

Deep within the lush Tasmanian rainforest is the remote town of Vanishing Falls, a place with a storied past. The town’s showpiece, built in the 1800s, is its Calendar House-currently occupied by Jack Lily, a prominent art collector and landowner; his wife, Celia; and their four daughters. The elaborate, eccentrically designed mansion houses one masterpiece and 52 rooms-and Celia Lily isn’t in any of them. She has vanished without a trace….

Joelle Smithton knows that a few folks in Vanishing Falls believe that she’s simple-minded. It’s true that Joelle’s brain works a little differently-a legacy of shocking childhood trauma. But Joelle sees far more than most people realize, and remembers details that others cast away. For instance, she knows that Celia’s husband, Jack, has connections to unsavoury local characters whom he’s desperate to keep hidden. He’s not the only one in town with something to conceal. Even Joelle’s own husband, Brian, a butcher, is acting suspiciously. While the police flounder, unable to find Celia, Joelle is gradually parsing the truth from the gossip she hears and from the simple gestures and statements that can unwittingly reveal so much. Just as the water from the falls disappears into the ground, gushing away through subterranean creeks, the secrets in Vanishing Falls are pulsing through the town, about to converge. And when they do, Joelle must summon the courage to reveal what really happened to Celia, even if it means exposing her own past…

My Thoughts:

Set in contemporary rural Tasmania, Vanishing Falls is a compelling crime fiction that at once intrigues and repels in equal measure. In terms of the type of crime fiction, it’s a bit of a hybrid really. Sometimes cosy mystery, at other times police procedural, with a fair bit of domestic and rural noir thrown into the mix. Some might say that it’s a novel that couldn’t settle on a genre; I think it’s more a sign of the writer adapting her story specifically to each character and the lens they themselves are viewing events through at any given time.

There aren’t a lot of nice characters within this novel. Indeed, the more I got to know Celia, the missing woman, the less I cared about what had happened to her. The story is told in alternating view points, shifting between Joele, Cliff, and Jack. If I have any complaint about this novel it would be this: the rapid way in which the viewpoints shifted between the characters. It was a little too frequent, within chapters, not just at the start of each one. Despite the sections being named with whoever’s viewpoint we were currently in, there was a choppy feel to the story overall, akin to watching table tennis, your gaze needing to shift all too often.

Despite this, Vanishing Falls is a compelling read. Through the disappearance of Celia, the author has skilfully exposed a seedy underbelly that exists in many pockets of rural Australia. Communities held fast within the grips of methamphetamines, along with some other even more repellent means of generating an income by way of abusing the power within relationships. As I mentioned above, there are quite a few unsavoury and distasteful characters within this story, lending it a real world edge that leaves a sour after-taste. I didn’t like either Jack or Cliff, unable to muster even a shred of sympathy for them, which made their respective endings a bitter pill to swallow. Everything was tidied up quite efficiently, in the manner of the traditional cosy mystery, but I felt these two men got off lightly given their questionable morality.

Joelle was a different story all together. Her back story was tragic and unsettling. It took awhile for me to reach a place of acceptance regarding Joelle and the events of her past, the author drip feeding the details along the way, giving an impression of culpability initially. It wasn’t until near the very end that Joelle gave us the full story through her memories. Joelle was a different heroine to what you normally might encounter within a crime novel. Her vulnerability and the way in which people manipulated her with such obvious intent was at times frustrating, at others distressing. Her childlike way of looking at some things was offset by a sharply observational nature, something most people overlooked when regarding her. It was slightly far fetched to have Joelle solve a mystery that the police seemed intent on not solving, but again, threads of the cosy mystery were being woven together here, so within that setting and genre, it worked.

Vanishing Falls is a good read, atmospheric to its setting and climate; you could feel the cold, smell the constant rain, and feel your boots sinking into the mud. Fans of novels set in Tasmania should definitely add this to their reading lists.


Thanks is extended to the author, Poppy Gee, for providing me with a copy of Vanishing Falls for review.

About the Author:

Poppy Gee is the author of psychological mystery novels Bay of Fires and Vanishing Falls. Both novels are set in Tasmania, Australia, where Poppy grew up.
Poppy lives in Brisbane, Queensland, with her husband, three children and three cats. She has worked as a journalist, editor, book reviewer and journalism/creative writing teacher, as well as a ski guide in Zermatt, yacht stewardess on the French Riviera, and a B&B manager in Edinburgh.
She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Queensland. When she is not writing, Poppy loves reading across all genres, hiking alone in the forest, taking her kids to the beach, and snow skiing any chance she gets.

Vanishing Falls
Published by Booktopia Editions
Released 17th November 2020

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