All The Books I Can Read

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Blog Tour Review: Sticks And Stones by Katherine Firkin

on June 6, 2020

Sticks And Stones
Katherine Firkin
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s winter in Melbourne and Detective Emmett Corban is starting to regret his promotion to head of the Missing Persons Unit, as the routine reports pile up on his desk.

So when Natale Gibson goes missing, he’s convinced this is the big case he’s been waiting for – the woman’s husband and parents insist the devoted mother would never abandon her children, and her personal accounts remain untouched.

But things aren’t all they seem. The close-knit Italian family is keeping secrets – none bigger than the one Natale has been hiding.

Just as the net seems to be tightening, the investigation is turned on its head. The body of a woman is found . . . then another.

What had seemed like a standard missing person’s case has turned into a frightening hunt for a serial killer, and time is running out.

But to really understand these shocking crimes, Emmett and his team will need to delve back through decades of neglect – back to a squalid inner-city flat, where a young boy is left huddling over his mother’s body . . .

This is a debut novel from Australian Katherine Firkin, who as a crime reporter, has covered some of Australia’s most high profile and gruesome crimes. It introduces us to Detective Emmett Corban, a Melbourne police officer who has been promoted to the head of the Missing Persons Unit. It’s not exactly the Homicide Squad and Emmett does seem a little reluctant and unenthusiastic about his new post, especially when it’s cases like free spirited traveller Rosemary Norman who has been reported missing by her brother Daniel after failing to attend their other brother Tom’s birthday party, apparently the one date the family never misses. Emmett isn’t too concerned, she probably has just set off on another adventure. But when Melbourne mother Natale Gibson fails to pick her children up from a holiday program, alarm bells start ringing. At first glance, the women don’t appear to have anything in common….is it possible that Rosemary didn’t disappear to travel again after all? Does Melbourne potentially have a serial killer of women at work? And if so….how is he finding his victims? Emmett needs to establish a connection.

I really enjoyed this. There are a lot of characters and at times the perspective changes which allows the plot to twist and turn and throw the reader some clues, some of which will most certainly be red herrings. Along with Emmett, we also get inside the head of his wife Cindy, a disenchanted mother who is excited to be returning to work after taking time off to raise their son, who is now in school. Emmett works long hours. Presumably this promotion has only exacerbated that and then there’s this case, which soon takes up all his time and his wife is left to pick up all of the “mental load” of not only doing the day to day caring for their son but also remembering things like football practice, school concerts, parent teacher interviews, things which Emmett will miss probably a significant portion of, due to his work. Through her return to work, she’s looking to reclaim her identity as something other than a wife and mother, to fulfil herself in ways that motherhood simply doesn’t.

One thing I found interesting in this was the different way Emmett reacted to the disappearances of Rosemary and Natale. Rosemary is unmarried, only held down temporary or casual jobs, spent a lot of her life travelling overseas, visiting amazing places. She’s bohemian-looking, and Emmett basically dismisses her brother’s concerns at first with the belief that she’s probably just taken off again on another holiday/adventure. But when Natale is reported missing, a married mother of two children, it’s quite different. It’s ‘out-of-character’ for Natale to not pick up her children and even though Rosemary’s brother asserts that it’s definitely out of character for his sister to miss their brother Tom’s birthday, it’s not treated the same way. Because she liked to travel and didn’t particularly have a career or what one would determine as a traditional family life, it was deemed unlikely at first, that harm had been done to her. I understand that police have limited resources and probably occasionally have to prioritise and make judgement calls, especially in the early hours and days of a missing report of a grown woman.

As well as Emmett and Cindy and the perspective of another young woman, we also get snippets from the killer’s childhood, which lay his traumatic background bare. It made me think a lot about nature and nurture and the impact of abuse, grief, drugs, the system, etc on very young children. Which is not to say I think that it’s an excuse for heinous acts – definitely not. But it makes me wonder how hard it is to break a cycle, especially when you are not given the tools to process and cope with the trauma that life has dealt you, when you slip through the cracks of a flawed system.

This was a gripping read – everything weaves together really well and meshes together in a clever and cohesive story. I hope that it might be the first in a series and it doesn’t seem like I’m alone there! I think the character of Emmett has a lot more to offer and I’d be curious to see what other stories the author could use her background to create.

8/10

Book #107 of 2020

Sticks And Stones is the 35th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020


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