What is this about?: Ted Conkaffey is a victim of circumstances in the worst way possible. Accused of a horrific crime he flees to Crimson Lake in its aftermath where he tries to rebuild his life and himself. His lawyer, Sean, introduces him to Amanda, a woman convicted of murder who has opened the only PI agency in the area. Together, they’re asked to solve the case of missing author Jake Scully.
What else is this about?: Ted’s and Amanda’s cases respectively. Fox takes on three different cases in a way in this book, balancing Jake’s case with their respective cases too. It’s taut writing, drawing readers in to these characters and their pasts, and making you think about them differently.
Blurb: From the award-winning author of Hades and Eden comes an ingenious and edgy suspense novel that will keep you guessing to the very last page . . .
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 . . .
Circumstances are a bitch
I think that about sums up this book.
Ted was a good cop before chance and circumstance turned him into an accused paedophile and an outcast. Stopping at the side of the road to fix his car, he becomes the last person to be seen with a girl before she’s raped. From there, Fox unfurls his case, and the circumstances that helped shape him as the best suspect for the young girl’s rape.
He is never convicted, so after the case ends he flees to Crimson Lake in an effort to find some peace from the public and the media, and soon finds himself working with Amanda to investigate the disappearance of author Jake Scully. That quickly becomes a murder investigation as Amanda and Jake try to find out what happened to him, and how part of him ended up in a crocodile.
Crimson Lake is a small town, the kind Ted hopes doesn’t pay attention to news from Sydney and where people are content to go about their lives. That lasts for a short time before Amanda and Ted find themselves coming up against cops that hate them, and want him back in jail, a public out for blood and media determined to get their last ounce of blood from his story.
Ted and Amanda
Ted is in ruins when the story opens, and remains as such for the book – how do you recover from being helpless to circumstance? You don’t – you become afraid. Of being recognised, hated, assaulted or having a mike shoved in your face, and said face and safe haven plastered all over the papers and TV. We live in a time when our lives are on camera, so for Ted his escape to Crimson Lake only lasts so long.
Ted doesn’t know how to begin to rebuild himself, but it has to start somehow, so for a man whose lost his wife and daughter, Fox gives him hope in the littlest of things – a goose and her goslings. It’s such a simple and elegant way to show him rebuilding his life, I might have worried for the survival of his geese family by the end. Ted needs something else to care about to even start to care for himself, and that segues into working with Amanda, herself a convicted killer. Whereas Ted doesn’t know how to hide himself yet, 10 years in prison have made Amanda an expert.
She is sharp-tongued, always ready with a comeback and adept at navigating a life with a M(urderer) on her chest that the whole world can see. Curious about her case, he starts to do some of his own investigating into it and starts to learn about who she was and who is now.
They couldn’t be more different characters and ill-suited to each other as partners. Amanda is crass and Ted still thinks like a cop, so she isn’t ideal partner material. Their partnership is at least fuelled in large part by Amanda, and the force of her personality in wearing him down. That personality is a façade in some ways, but Ted sticks around to earn the right to see past it.
Ted, on the other hand is too careful, too new to this life of notoriety to be able to deal with what it brings him. The flashbacks take us back to the trial, to the events that still haunt him. I’m not always a fan of flashbacks, but they’re short and to the point. It’s gradual, but as the case he progresses and he sees Amanda in action, he begins to realise what he can learn from Amanda to survive this new life of his.
Three cases for the price of one
Crimson Lake is a story of three cases: Jake’s, Ted’s and Amanda’s. Which, I didn’t actually realise until I was well into the book. Fox’s writing is taut, riveting stuff so much so that you don’t mind that three different stories are happening. She holds on to the threads of each firmly, keeping them clear in her writing. Ted is Fox’s long game, but Amanda’s case is a revelation in subtle writing that kind of smacks you upside the head by the end.
Their investigation into Jake Scully’s case takes them through the town and the secrets people have, showing that small-towns, as always, have the best kept secrets. Their investigation into his private life is seemingly less interesting than the investigation into his professional life and the heady world of YA publishing and its fans. It did make me wonder about the fanmail Fox gets, because Jake, the author, gets some seriously disturbed stuff. Amanda and Ted’s search into work unwraps a bit of the seedy, scary underbelly of fandom I admit, but of course nothing is quite so simple.
When the killer is revealed, it’s only one answer to a raft of questions you’ll have, but I have to say I think the answers will be worth the wait.
Now, I have to wait on pins and needles to see when the next book will be out. Crimson Lake is out now.