Bay of Fires Meets the Press
The Australian, Review, June 1-2, 2013
POPPY Gee’s debut novel Bay of Fires (Headline Review, 320pp, $29.99) is a trouble-in-paradise literary thriller set in the beautiful Tasmanian coastal region of the title.
Tasmanian-born, Brisbane-based journalist Gee delivers a compelling character-driven story that is refreshingly original.
Sarah Avery, an aquaculturist in her mid-30s, has returned to Tasmania from a job managing a Queensland barramundi farm following a relationship break-up. She’s an unlikely heroine, a complex amalgam of sensitivity, obsessiveness, misanthropy, boozer and tomboy. She’s ensconced for the summer at her family’s holiday shack in the Bay of Fires, where she lives with her parents, airline stewardess sister Erica and Erica’s pilot boyfriend Steve. Her parents are locked into their social habits and seem oblivious to her despair, which she confronts by drinking too much and fishing. Only her sister notices, but Sarah’s envy of Erica’s seemingly perfect life makes her resist finding any succour there.
When a young Swiss backpacker is found dead on the beach, the small village becomes the focus of a media pack. Among them is Hall Flynn, an old-school local journalist, broken since his wife ran off with his best friend. Against the unlikely dance of these characters is an array of fascinating minor players, all superbly drawn.
More than a murder mystery, this is a tale of odd-bods and resistance to the status quo. In many ways the smaller the community, the larger the characters become, and Bay of Fires in this respect reminds you of other writers of the geographic fringes such as E. Annie Proulx. There’s a powerful social intelligence at work here and Gee’s compassion for her characters and their predicaments is palpable. She has taken the scaffolding of a crime novel and used it to tread beyond the parameters of genre conventions and investigate the messier terrain of human frailty and endurance. It’s a book that gets you thinking about people rather than plots, and is all the better for it. Ed Wright.
Marie Claire, USA, March 2013
If you loved Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: You’ll like this murder mystery. Plot notes: Trying to get over a bad breakup, Sarah Avery is home in Tasmania for the holiday – when she finds a body washed up on shore. Before reading: Lock your doors. This whodunit will creep you out. Steph Opitz.
Autumn Blues Reviews: http://autumnbluesreviews.com/
I found Bay Of Fires quite a refreshing change from other stuffy mystery novels. Throughout the story Gee makes sure to provide the reader many vivid details of the beautiful and unforgiving land in and around the Bay of Fires in Tasmania. Like a tapestry, Gee has taken the characters and woven that thread that makes them all unmistakably human. I don’t feel this novel is for everyone and I would only recommend this book to those with an open mind and looking for a mystery novel with an unconventional twist. Digna Dreibelbis.
Sun Herald, Sydney, 24 Feb 2013Unwind, p15, and Sunday Age, Melbourne 24 Feb 2013, Melbourne Magazine, page 14
SUSPENSE: Atmospheric settings are the mark of superior crime fiction, with the background so intensely realised that it almost becomes a character. Gee shows she can draw geography in this debut literary thriller. Over Christmas, an assortment of characters meet at a secluded Tasmanian holiday site. They all have baggage, and all become suspects when a young tourist is murdered. Is a serial killer at work? Everybody has their theories and talk soon gets nasty. Bad deeds will follow, as sure as a local woman and a journalist will mesh. It works equally well as realism and suspense. Lucy Sussex.
Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin, Gold Coast, 23 Feb 2013, Gold Coast Eye, page 22
AN apparently idyllic summer getaway on the Tasmanian coast with murder, mystery and some very suspicious minds. Sarah arrives for a summer with her family at their beach shack in the Bay of Fires, although she’s anything but happy about it. Having left behind a career and boyfriend in Queensland she’s fuelling the local gossip mill with her detachment and secrets. When a dead girl is washed up on the beach, one year after another teenage girl had mysteriously vanished, the community really begins to gossip. Bring in Hall Flynn, investigating journalist and the blame game and worry of who might be next begins to unravel the small community. Gee has created an original story with an underlying darkness and offset it perfectly with her evocative and beautiful imagery of coastal Tasmania. It won’t take long before Gee’s skilful character depiction draws you into Sarah’s world and that of the holidaymakers and residents of the stunning Bay of Fires. Readers not usually drawn to dramatic sagas may find that stepping outside of their comfort zone for this novel very rewarding. VERDICT: Compelling. Michelle Giuliani.
Adelaide Advertiser, Adelaide, 16 Feb 2013
Tasmania’s Bay of Fires is the setting for former journalist Gee’s debut novel, and novel is a most apt description. For although essentially about the suspicious deaths of two young women, it has a most singular heroine. There’s something fishy about why Sarah Avery has returned to the island and, specifically, her family’s holiday shack. It’s distinctly Australian, a community that exists only in the summer and is dedicated to the gathering of the sea’s bounty. Indeed, prickly Sarah, whose drinking problem leads to reckless promiscuity, prefers rods, reels, jigs and nets to people altogether. Nevertheless, she casts her lot with an old-school journalist to crack the case and save the shackles from tearing each other apart through suspicion and innuendo. Shelley Orchard ****
Illawarra Mercury, Wollongong NSW, 09 Feb 2013, Weekender, page 12
Top Pick: The beautiful, remote Bay of Fires stretches along the north-east coast of Tasmania, with a few beach shacks scattered along the shores. Here Sarah Avery had spent numerous family holidays, returning after a traumatic period in her Queensland job to its peace and isolation. Journalist Hall Flynn is sent to investigate the disappearance of a young Swiss tourist but the small, close community attempts to keep its own secrets until the discovery of the body of a young woman involves the police. Poppy Gee’s passion for the area and of the community provides interesting background to the powerful plot. A welcome new voice from our smallest state with a second novel due this year. Jean Ferguson.
Launceston Examiner, Tasmania, Australia 02 Feb 2013
Thriller captures Tassie coastline and the imagination
TASMANIA’S Bay of Fires is home to only a small amount of permanent residents among those who holiday there each year. It’s the type of place where everyone’s business is public knowledge and a constant string of gossip is what keeps the community thriving, regardless of how accurate it may or may not be. However, in more recent times. sinister things have begun to occur. A young girl disappears with no trace ever found and now a dead body has been washed ashore. It doesn’t take long for the rumour mill to erupt and the accusations to unfold. Journalist Hall Flynn is assigned to the investigation, and soon learns that no matter how welcoming people may be, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have anything to hide. No matter which way he turns, it seems everyone has a secret. Launceston author Poppy Gee has managed to not only produce a brilliantly written thriller, but also perfectly capture Tasmania’s beautiful, yet dangerous, coastline. I enjoyed every page and was constantly kept guessing. EMILY TAYLOR
Author’s response: What a lovely review, thank you, Emily! I’m glad you felt that Tasmania’s coast line was well drawn. When I was writing the novel, the landscape was as important to me as the characters. I’m interested in eco-feminism, and I’m also inspired by nineteenth-century writer Thomas Hardy’s way of using the landscape to reflect the feelings of the characters, and it’s something I tried to do in my novel. In my mind, Tasmania makes an amazing character: wild, beautiful and miserable, inaccessible, unforgiving and fragile. Fear of being devoured by the forest of or the ocean has a vivid history in Tasmania: for example, convict gaolers knew the convicts’ fear of this happening was often sufficient to prevent them trying to escape. Today when bushwalkers or fishermen disappear, there is a real concern that no trace of them will be found, in part due to the isolation and harsh conditions.
Herald Sun, Melbourne 26 Jan 2013
On a beach on Tasmania’s east coast, the battered body of a young backpacker washes ashore. For Sarah Avery, running from a failed relationship and an employment disaster, it’s one more problem to deal with as she tries to find peace at her parents’shack. When charismatic journalist Hall Flynn asks questions about the dead girl and another missing teen,things get more complicated. Gee, a Tasmanian author, has created a very dark novel that draws loosely on two real-life crimes. Her characters are flawed, but a number successfully seek redemption. The conclusion is far from clear-cut and the overall picture is of small-town secrets exposed.EW
Author’s response: Short and sweet! I like this review, I feel like the reviewer relayed the main points of my novel. It’s funny to read that Hall Flynn, the reporter in Bay of Fires, is charismatic. I suppose he must be attractive, since so many women in the novel are attracted to him, but when I think of him I imagine a really nice man who is kind of endearingly hopeless at everything he tries to do!
Library Journal (STARRED): Although this debut novel by Australian author Gee appears to unfold as languidly as a beach afternoon, she deftly creates a delicious atmosphere of mounting suspense. Gee’s magic touch is clearly evident in her indelible characters, especially the prickly Sarah, whose feelings of self-hatred and loneliness are absolutely real. Readers who appreciate nuanced characters grappling complex relationships will find that Gee is a newcomer to watch.
Booklist: While Gee’s debut is nominally a mystery, this is no action whodunit with a slam-bang conclusion. Instead, the novel’s appeal comes more from its unusual sense of place and well-drawn, fallible characters. Enjoy at leisure.
Kirkus Reviews: A close-knit beachfront community in Tasmania is threatened by a killer who might be one of the neighbors… Gee’s preoccupations are less with the mystery than with the psychological profiles of the members of this ingrown society…
Bookseller & Publisher (Australia): … a compelling, dark summer read for fans of thought-provoking dramas.