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Review: Charlotte Pass by Lee Christine

on February 17, 2020

Charlotte Pass
Lee Christine
Allen & Unwin
2020, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A shocking discovery deep in the Snowy Mountains. A killer who will do anything to keep secrets buried.

When ski patroller Vanessa Bell discovers human bones high on Mount Stilwell at Charlotte Pass ski resort, Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder of the Sydney Homicide Squad is called in to lead the investigative team.

Arriving in the isolated, snowed-in village with Winterfest celebrations underway, Ryder soon determines that the bones are those of Celia Delaney, a young woman who disappeared from the ski resort in 1964 during the biggest winter storm in Australian alpine history.

When a second murder takes place, Ryder suspects that the deaths are related, and that the person responsible is still in the village. Amid the escalating tension, Ryder is desperate to make an arrest before the stakes rise even higher.

Set within the stunning Snowy Mountains, this intriguing mystery uncovers deadly, long-buried secrets in the valleys and mountains of this iconic area.

I love book set in Australia but in different places from the norm – away from the capital cities and small coastal towns that are often common. This book is set in Charlotte Pass, a town in the NSW Snowy Mountains. I grew up in NSW and on the news each night they would give the state temperature high and low. For a large portion of time, the low was almost always Charlotte Pass, so that was all I knew about it – that it was often the coldest place overnight! I’m not a cold weather girl – I’ve been to the Snowy Mountains just once, to Thredbo and Perisher and Mount Blue Cow on a school excursion but Charlotte Pass is also a really interesting setting because in winter, it’s snowbound and access is via ski lift, snowmobile or special buses run by the village. It gives a wonderful atmosphere for a crime novel.

Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder finds himself temporarily nearby because he believes a fugitive he hunts is somewhere in the locality, stealing from properties and dossing down in barns. He is removed from that however, when bones are found at Charlotte Pass because it’s just a short little trip for him to head up and investigate. There are a few possible options but one involves an unsolved case from many years ago, something that a close friend of Ryder’s, a mentor of sorts who is now retired from the police force, is closely connected to.

I really enjoyed this story – it has a lot of elements. The mystery was really interesting – I love a cold case setting. A young woman vanished many years ago after an argument with her husband and no trace of her has ever been found, until now. All of the key players are also back at the resort as well, the same people who were there many years ago when she vanished into the night. The second murder adds a new depth and complexity to the case, especially for both of the main characters.

I loved Detective Ryder and Vanessa together. They had a good dynamic from the very beginning. Vanessa is the one who discovered the bones, so Pierce needs to talk to her and after that, they keep kind of bumping into each other which helps push the attraction a long. Pierce has a troubled past and I really felt his pain and guilt and suffering over it, and it actually kind of made sense that because of it he wouldn’t really want to put himself out there again. Something happens to Vanessa in the novel that also gives her the experience of pain and guilt as well – it’s not the same sort of pain as Pierce’s but I think it also helps them understand each other, puts them in a position to empathise with each other as well as share in some feelings of surviving when others did not and feeling that weight of blame over it.

It’s been an oppressive summer here – long, very humid with plenty of fires and now, crazy rain. It was good to actually escape to a snowy community, to immerse myself in that sort of setting where it’s subzero temperatures, the difficulty of getting in and out and gathering evidence due to both the isolation and the weather. It was something really different to what I was experiencing in real life and it would be just as cozy as a winter read as well, tucked up under a blanket. The ski lodge has a great atmosphere, a bit sinister and insular and the staff work and socialise in close proximity. Ryder faces a lot of stonewalling at times, plus the added, well I want to say pressure but it isn’t really…..the added knowledge really, that he has a chance to solve ‘the one that got away’ for someone very important to him. An older, distinguished cop that he cares about, who has been wonderful to Pierce during very a difficult time for him. I think probably most, if not all police have cases that they couldn’t crack that haunt them I think and for Pierce, this is the chance to lay one of those to rest for someone (who he even gets in to help him). It’s a chance for a lot of people to know the truth, including the young girl’s parents, who are still alive and well into advanced age. To give them closure, so that they might know what happened to their daughter before their own time is up, is a powerful motivator in some regards.

There’s something for everyone in this one – a strong setting which will be both new to some readers and yet familiar in many aspects as well, very well fleshed out main characters and a good mystery where you end up wanting to find out what happens just as much as the police do, plus there’s a little bit of romance too. It was a perfect read for me, engaging and well written with a gripping story and characters I really wanted to find the answers.


Book #22 of 2020

Charlotte Pass is book #8 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

2 responses to “Review: Charlotte Pass by Lee Christine

  1. A 9!! High praise. I’ve been dithering a bit over this as I’m pretty fatigued when it comes to rural crime but your review has me interested again.

  2. […] Charlotte Pass by Lee Christine was released in February and it has attracted 4 positive reviews from regular reviewers. On Goodreads it was reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith and Helen Sibbrett while also reviewed by Amanda @ Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Bree @1girl2manybooks. […]

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