5 February 2023

Review: HEADLAND, John Byrnes

  • This edition published in 2023 by Allen & Unwin
  • ISBN 978-1-76106-761-7
  • 289 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

A coastal town is evacuated after record floods. Three young police officers are left behind. With a killer.
'Following in the footsteps of Jane Harper and Chris Hammer . . . Byrnes does a fantastic job of turning the relentless downpour into a constant threat. This thriller is a pacy and compelling debut.' - Books+Publishing

The small beachside town of Gloster is on the edge of disaster. After constant rain, floodwaters are rising fast.

Detective Constable Craig Watson, exiled to Gloster from Sydney, is a young man with a damaged past and an uncertain future.

Constables Ellie Cameron and Larissa Brookes are young women struggling to show their worth as police officers under a misogynistic sergeant.

The drowning town holds a secret that someone is prepared to murder for, and as the floodwaters cut Gloster off from the world the three young police officers begin to understand that it's not just them left stranded. Somewhere out there in the floodwaters is a killer. And he needs them dead.

Taut, compelling and visceral, John Byrnes' Headland announces a major new voice in Australian crime fiction.

My Take

My turn to choose 2 books for our "friends" book group which meets monthly and reads crime fiction. On the surface, HEADLAND fits the bill: recently published, Australian noir crime fiction, and  an author we haven't read before. In addition Target has low cost copies, and the local library system has a couple.

With many Australian states impacted by flooding, the setting feels very topical: a small New South Wales coastal village about to be evacuated because of rising floods. In addition, flood mitigation works supposedly spent over the previous five years have not solved the town's problems, money appearing to have been siphoned off into private building projects and expensive cars.

Craig Watson's posting to the town is a last-ditch effort to keep him in the police force. He is addicted to prescription drugs, and really not an impressive character. He is the replacement for a cop who was even less desirable, and the station boss works only a fraction of each day, spending most of his time in the pub.

So, the book has the making of an interesting story, but I'm not sure how far the rest of my group will get. The blurb says it is "visceral" - there are short sections of explicit sexual description - important for understanding how far Craig Watson has fallen and why - kindly published in italics so you can leap over them if you really want to. We are given Watson's back story episodically, but I really didn't develop any empathy for him. 

So I've come away from this book in two minds, but it may well work as a thriller for male readers.

My rating: 3.5

About the author
Born in Sydney, John moved to Mid North Coast of New South Wales with his wife and three children in 2012. He has a broad range of life experience having spent time in the Australian Army, worked fishing trawlers out of Darwin, worked bars and doors in pubs and clubs all over Australia, and somehow ended up with an Economics Degree. He started writing in 2015 and has a fascination with the darker aspects of the human condition; the addicted, the malevolent, the scarred. He cheers for the outsider, the slacker, the contrarian, the non-conformist.

When he is not writing or pondering the darkness within men's souls he works part-time in financial services.

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