Half Moon Bay
Penguin Books Aus
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Ellie Wilding has spent the last two years running from the pain and guilt of losing her older sister Nina in Afghanistan. A photographer, Ellie has worked around the world, avoiding home. But it seems that she can’t run any longer – some neighbours have asked her for some help in fighting a corrupt mayor who wants to ignore a former resident’s wishes and sell off the land she left to the town to highest bidder. More than that, there’s some suspicious funds transfers going on and even more suspicious activities in the fishing trawlers who don’t seem to mind going out when there isn’t anything to catch.
Nicholas Lawson walked away from the Army after the incident that killed Nina Wilding. He knows that Ellie doesn’t remember him from that day she organised a medivac to get her sister out of the hellhole of Afghanistan so when they cross paths again, there are no happy reunions. Ellie wants to get to the bottom of exactly what Nicholas is doing in her home town and why his employers won’t take no for an answer about building their resort on a patch of land deemed for a community center. Nicholas wants her to butt out, lest she find herself embroiled in something far more dangerous than she can even imagine.
As Ellie gets deeper involved in this fight to save her small town from being taken over by a huge resort and who knows what else, she finds her life in danger – and her heart. She can’t trust Nicholas Lawson because his character inconsistencies and thinly veiled threats tell he that he’s up to no good. But she can’t deny the attraction she feels towards him either and Ellie has felt precious little in the recent years. And the more she digs, the more she feels like there’s something Nick isn’t telling her about her sister.
Half Moon Bay is Helene Young’s fourth novel and the first one in which she strays away from far north Queensland and the border security organisations. Instead we are introduced to Ellie Wilding, a photographer who was working in Afghanistan with her sister Nina, a journalist. Ellie left briefly to undertake another assignment and when she returned it was to find Nina in a coma from which she was not expected to survive. In the two years since, Ellie has been travelling the globe, running away from the memories and trying to avoid the grief and pain. Only a threat to Half Moon Bay, her beloved home town on the north coast of NSW, calls her home.
Ellie’s grief is so heartbreakingly palpable – she’s not just devastated at losing her sister, she blames herself for leaving her to take the other assignment. Saving Half Moon Bay is just another way to distract Ellie from the guilt and grief that has plagued her, even though being back here brings up so many memories of Nina. When she crosses paths with Nicholas Lawson, she has no recollection of him being there on the tarmac with her in Afghanistan as she prepared to get her sister out. But she has other reasons to distrust him – he’s attached to the new project designated for land that should’ve been used to benefit the community. The Mayor is lining his own pockets and the town isn’t happy but they need someone with connections, someone who can blow the whistle – Ellie.
Unfortunately for Ellie, the only man that’s interested her in years, she feels she can’t trust. Nicholas Lawson is up to his neck in this development – cosy chats with the mayor about funds and a schmoozing ability to cut a swathe through the opposition with his dark good looks and smile. When a journalist friend of Ellie’s tells her that Nicholas was in Afghanistan at the time Nina was killed, Ellie has even more reason to distrust him. After all, he hasn’t mentioned anything about knowing her sister. It further fuels her suspicions and further makes her reluctant to become involved with him. But that proves to be easier said than done as she continues to get closer to him, despite her best intentions not to.
The chemistry between Ellie and Nick is fraught with unresolved tension, both sexual and otherwise. Ellie wants to find out what secrets he’s keeping and Nick wants her to stay the heck away from all of this. His attempts to dissuade her make his actions seem all the more suspicious, especially as he attempts to threaten her in order to attempt to keep her safe. As far as threats go, they aren’t really Nick’s strong point and Ellie pays about as much attention to them as she does to a fly. But when it seems that her safety (and possibly even her life) might be in danger she has to wonder just how dangerous Nick might be. Is he what she thinks he is? Or is he in this for an entirely different reason?
I really connected with the setting in this novel – I grew up a couple of hours south of where Helene Young has mostly based this book (and the rest of my family still live there and I visit that area as often as I can) and the local small towns and communities are very familiar to me, as are the sights and scenery. I can understand the locals desire to protect their small haven as well as implement services they believe that the community will need and I can also understand how the temptation to succumb to boosting the economy can war with this. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot and what the link between Afghanistan and Half Moon Bay is but I enjoyed the way in which it all came together when it looked as if it might be drawing a long bow at the beginning at the novel.
It’s hard to top the love I have for Burning Lies, Young’s third novel but Half Moon Bay does come quite close. It’s a tightly knit story with some fantastically drawn characters. There’s a lot to uncover and it’s done with great timing. My only (tiny) criticism – I’d have liked Ellie to throw caution to the wind a little earlier. I know why she didn’t, because the story had to unfold. But I’m impatient that way.
Book #114 of 2013
Half Moon Bay is the 48th novel read and reviewed for my participation in the Australian Women Writers 2013 Challenge.