Wimmera by Mark Brandi

It’s hard not to love a book in which Ballarat plays a minor role, but there are plenty of other reasons that made Wimmera so easy to recommend.

The first section of the three-part novel is told through the eyes of Ben, who is in the latter years of primary school in small-town Victoria.

It is a time of life when he enjoys the freedoms of going yabbying with his best friend, Fab and practising his bmx tricks, but he also finds comfort in being at home with his mum. Ben is confused about the world and behaviour of adults, and only gingerly trying to navigate its mysteries.

The mix of innocence and the first few steps into the adult world are familiar and poignant. They also give rise to a sense of impending doom, as a mysterious new figure enters Ben’s life, causing him to retreat from his friendship with Fab. The youth of the narrator exacerbates the feeling of dread that a young life is set to be quietly, cruelly, upended.

The second section of the book is written from Fab’s viewpoint, years after the end of his friendship with Ben. The section explores what has become of Fab, staying in his hometown and working at the local supermarket. Underlying the section is the question of what happened to Ben, and between the boys, to separate them.

The third part of the novel joins the dots, reveals almost all in the very best way by leaving some questions unanswered. Yet, enough is written to ensure the reader understands the extent of the crime and its impact on the boys’ lives.

Brandi’s book won the British Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, although I’m not sure that I would classify Brandi’s book as crime fiction. The crime seems to crouch in the background, with the characters and their derailed coming of age at the forefront.

I loved that the world of childhood that Brandi evoked was familiar – of long days, never spent far from the comforts of the family home. This recognisable environment, in which my hometown was mentioned more than once, results in a story in which the familiarity of the place makes the experiences of the characters all the more chilling.

Wimmera is a beautiful, heartbreaking and haunting book that speaks of youthful innocence stolen, the strength of friendship and the the price of loyalty. It is another great Aussie read that will be difficult to forget.

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