Rusty and Kate know that mining isn’t easy or predictable, but they didn’t expect to become embroiled in a potentially deadly adventure.
It’s hard out there for an opal miner, especially in the Australian Outback, where there are wild animals, uncomfortable elements and ratters (crooked miners), who’d like nothing better than to illegally poach another miner’s find. But the possibility of earning big money makes the risk worth it. At least, that’s what miner Rusty thinks as he struggles with day-to-day life in Lightning Ridge. True friends are rare in this desolate area, but he and Kate, a rancher who has also been known to mine from time to time, share a bond. They watch out for each other and decide to go into business together to mine opal. The novel is heavy on plot but light on character development. Little time is given to delving into the inner lives of Rusty and Kate, never mind the secondary and tertiary characters who make up the rest of the cast. People who choose to mine opal are a unique breed, and Holmes’ mystery would benefit from exploring their depths. Although it sometimes reads like an old-timey Saturday afternoon movie, the novel is not without its charms. It moves quickly, building enough momentum to sustain interest. The book also informs about the actual mining process and includes maps of the Australian Outback, a glossary (a mob is a group of kangaroos) and brief educational asides that explain exactly what the characters are doing, offering a glimpse into something quite out of the ordinary. For example, we learn about the danger feral pigs pose to the Australian environment. This aside does nothing to further the plot or enhance the characters, but it’s interesting nonetheless, and it captures the beauty of the Outback, a recurring theme throughout.
A rich, unusual story undercut by too little character development.