Review: THE GREAT DIVIDE, L.J.M. Owen

  • this edition published by Echo Publishing 2019
  • ISBN 978-1-76068-582-9
  • 295 pages
  • source: review book from publisher

Synopsis (Allen & Unwin)

A city detective hunts a killer through a fog of lies in small town Tasmania.
Twisted Secrets. Hidden Victims. Monstrous Crimes.

In the rural Tasmanian town of Dunton, the body of a former headmistress of a children’s home is discovered, revealing a tortured life and death.

Detective Jake Hunter, newly arrived, searches for her killer among past residents of the home. He unearths pain, secrets and broken adults. Pushing aside memories of his own treacherous past, Jake focuses all his energy on the investigation. Why are some of the children untraceable? What caused such damage among the survivors?

The identity of her murderer seems hidden from Jake by Dunton’s fog of prejudice and lies, until he is forced to confront not only the town’s history but his own nature…

My Take

Detective Jake Hunter has the dual disadvantages of being a city boy, and of being from the mainland. He senses, as he begins the investigation into the murder of Ava O’Brien, that the local residents of Dunton have a lot they could tell him, but they are not going to.

The story begins with the disappearance of a 10 year old boy from a local camping ground. When heĀ  is found he tells Jake Hunter that he saw a monster. This is Jake’s first case in Dunton and not at all what he was expecting. He is saddled with a local counsellor representing victims of crime, who just happens to be the daughter of his new station head, Aiden Kelly.

When he eventually comes across the body of Ava O’Brien in a derelict orchard, he finds that she has horrific injuries including genital mutilation. He learns that she was in charge of the local home for “bad girls” and that there are at least two girls who used to live there who have been adopted by locals.

Eventually Jake solves the crime, but the story is grisly, almost unbelievable, of corruption and exploitation all centred on the girls home that Ava O’Brien ran.

This novel represents a change of direction for Australian author L.J.M. Owen, and presumably the start of a new series. Jake Hunter has come to Tasmania to make a new start, to leave behind in Melbourne a life that just became too complicated. He was looking forward to a new, quiet, role as a country copper, but that isn’t what he got.

My rating: 4.4

I’ve also read
4.4, OLMEC OBITUARY

About the author
Dr L.J.M. Owen has degrees in archaeology, forensic science and librarianship. She speaks five languages and has travelled extensively through Europe and Asia. L.J. was inspired to write the Dr Pimms series by the neglected women’s stories she discovered between the cracks of popular archaeology. Three books in this series have been published by Echo Publishing. L.J.’s new novel, The Great Divide, introduces a new story world and characters. L.J. is also the Festival Director of the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival, a celebration of literature and literacy in southern Tasmania, and divides her time between Canberra and southern Tasmania.

Review: OLMEC OBITUARY, L.J.M. Owen

Synopsis (Publisher)

Yearning for her former life as an archaeologist, Australian librarian Dr. Elizabeth Pimms is struggling with a job she doesn’t want, a family she both loves and resents, and enforced separation from her boyfriend.

A royal Olmec cemetery is discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, containing the earliest writing in all the Americas. Dr. Pimms is elated to join the team investigating these Aztec ancestors. Triumph is short-lived, however, as Elizabeth’s position on the team is threatened by a volatile excavation director, contradictory evidence, and hostile
colleagues. With everything working against her, will Dr Pimms find the cause of death for a 3,000-year-old athlete and those buried with her?

With the archaeological intrigue of Elizabeth Peters, forensic insight of Kathy Reichs, and comfort of a cosy mystery, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a fascinating new series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

My Take

Her father’s unexpected and untimely death means that Dr Elizabeth Pimms, forensic archaeologist and Egyptologist, has to abandon work she is doing in Egypt to return to her family in Canberra and take work as a librarian, so that she can provide financial support for her brother and sister and extended family.

She is approached to do some voluntary weekend work in Canberra working on the bones of 17 skeletons retrieved from an Olmec cave in Mexico. Her work is to be unpaid because the supervisor says basically that she needs to prove herself before he will consider remuneration. Elizabeth finds this difficult to understand because he has already obviously spent considerable funds on the work in Mexico. He and she have a falling out however on the first day when Elizabeth challenges some of the conclusions he wants to publish about the remains.

The reader is given background story to the events which have resulted in the burial of the bodies. These are details that Elizabeth has no way of knowing because there are no written records relating to this site. I am not sure about the wisdom of this as a plot structure.

Elizabeth has a personal mystery to unravel related to the death of her mother in a car crash nearly a decade earlier. She has to admit that she has been wrong in her assumptions about what caused the crash. But jumping to the wrong conclusions seems to be pretty par for the course for Elizabeth.

There is a lot going on in this book but my enjoyment of it was not helped by the fact that I didn’t particularly warm to Elizabeth herself. I thought I found some inconsistencies in the background details about Elizabeth: later in the book the family celebrates her 26th birthday, but in the Prologue we are told “after twenty years of yearning, planning and dedicated study she was finally here… a skilled archaeologist and knowledgeable Egyptologist”. I found it difficult to juggle her expertise against her age, and would have been more comfortable if she had just been a few years older.

Nevertheless, it is always interesting to find a new female Australian author, with a very different scenario, leading me into a world I am not really familiar with.

A second book in the series is promised: MAYAN MENDACITY. Elements of the story from OLMEC OBITUARY are left unresolved, so this should help link the two.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
L.J.M. Owen drew extensively on her education and experience when
developing the novel. Relevant qualifications include an undergraduate
degree in archaeology and a PhD in palaeogenetics from ANU, and a
graduate diploma in library management from Curtin University. See more information on her website.