The disappearance of a four-year-old boy in the menacing bush country is the catalyst for this engrossing melodrama—its author’s second novel, and winner of the Australian/Vogel Literary Award.
Williams focuses initially on 12-year-old Tom Ferry, the de facto guardian of his younger stepbrother Flynn—and the object of both parental scorn and his own agonized guilt when, upon returning home after a day at work with his stepfather (Flynn’s father), Tom’s attention is distracted by a wounded kangaroo, and Flynn is nowhere to be seen, shortly thereafter fully lost. A widespread search for both missing boys brings Gibson, a burnt-out Sydney detective, to Angel Rock, after Tom had stumbled alone into a neighbor’s yard, exhausted and distracted, unable to remember anything beyond hazy impressions of a “figure without a face” lurking in the trees, watching the two brothers. Williams squeezes maximum tension from this arresting premise, expanding the focus to explore the histories of several variously connected Angel Rock families, and linking Flynn’s disappearance to the suicides of two local girls: one a runaway to Sydney, the other the daughter of a fundamentalist family whose secrets are concealed in the religious colony known as New Eden. The novel also offers an appealing picture of the likable Tom Ferry’s conflicted approach to maturity (his scenes with a grandmotherly storekeeper and with the adolescent daughter of a stoical police sergeant are especially striking), which balances and helpfully vitiates the clichéd portrayal of Gibson, an alcoholic loner pursued by his own family ghosts and personal demons. And the image of the craggy landmark for which Angel Rock is named—a lonely eminence where spirits seem to walk—draws the story’s sprawling webwork of myths and legends, secrets and lies to it like a powerful magnet.
Another in the growing list of intriguing and accomplished novels from Down Under, and a welcome US debut.