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Review: The Road To Ironbark by Kaye Dobbie

on September 14, 2020

The Road To Ironbark
Kaye Dobbie
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2020, 308p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

1874, The Victorian Goldfields

In the town of Ironbark, Aurora Scott faces ruin as the railways supplant the Cobb & Co coach line, the lifeline of her hotel. Aurora is no stranger to adversity; the formidable publican has pulled herself from a murky past to build a respectable life in Ironbark. But when bushrangers storm the hotel, taking hostages as leverage for the Starburst Mine’s payroll, Aurora has more trouble on her hands than she can handle.

This is no random act, but a complex scheme of revenge. The gang turn on each other. Shots ring out. And when the dust settles, the money has vanished, and so has Aurora Scott…

After 150 years, the mystery of the missing payroll has passed into folklore. And when journalist Melody Lawson helps her brother prepare for the town’s annual Gold Hunt Weekend, she is just as drawn into the past as the tourists. But with a surprise inheritance her own family history becomes a puzzle, bound up with the fabled payroll – and as Melody follows the clues, danger mounts…

This book was also part of the ‘care package’ I received from Harper Collins Australia for being in Stage 4 lockdown here in Melbourne. I have read and enjoyed a Kaye Dobbie book before so I was quite excited about reading this – I had seen a few very positive reviews around and now having read it, I definitely agree with them. I absolutely loved this and read it in just a couple of hours.

It’s a dual timeline – 1874 and 2017 with a few snippets from a couple of other years as well. In 1874, Aurora Scott is the proprietor of the Ironbark Hotel, which is in the small town of Ironbark in the Victorian Goldfields. A widow, she has experiencing some difficulty financially, spending long hours agonising over how to cut costs and now the Cobb & Co coach line will no longer stop in the town, which will impact incredibly on her business. On the very last run, the payroll from the Starburst Mine is unexpectedly on the coach and bushrangers take Aurora and the others in her hotel hostage, demanding the payroll and threatening their lives.

In the present day, Melody Lawson returns to Ironbark, which she left after high school, after a family tragedy. The town relies heavily on the story of Aurora Scott for their Gold Hunt Weekend, a large tourism event which brings many to the small town. As well as dealing with that tragedy, Melody is also hit with a second bombshell – a surprise inheritance that makes her question everything about herself. She undertakes a bit of an investigation into her own past and the circumstances surrounding being left these assets but is unaware of just how much she might be putting herself in danger.

Both timelines are really interesting. Aurora is a strong, independent woman who has experienced grief and hardship and has also taken steps to protect herself from someone who would use her and who doesn’t take kindly to being told no. He’s the sort of person that has done wrong to many people but is wealthy enough and feared enough to always come out the victor. There’s a lot about Aurora’s background that comes out over the course of her being taken hostage in the hotel and she’s under a lot of pressure to protect everyone. It’s her hotel, she has employees there, people she cares about and people that were on the Cobb & Co coach. For some, it’s about winning, about not being a victim anymore – about taking something that will provide leverage to allow them freedom. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of the story, getting to know Aurora and what had happened to her and how she’d come to be managing the Ironbark Hotel and how the actions of those on that day changed her life.

In the present day, Melody has been eking out a living working for a community newspaper in Melbourne when she’s called home. Despite the tragedy they have experienced, Melody and her brother (her brother in particular) have a ‘show must go on’ type of attitude for the Gold Hunt Weekend. Melody’s brother is involved with all the organisation and it’s very important to him and his situation in the town that the weekend be a success. Melody is also reeling from the news of a mysterious inheritance and all that means as well as dealing with an enigmatic stranger and the high school boyfriend she left behind when she went to Melbourne – who seems to want her back. But he’ll never leave Ironbark and Melody has never been sure she wanted to live there again….until the inheritance that suddenly gives her more options. I got really invested in Melody’s story as well, both the aspect of her finding out about this mysterious inheritance and also her romantic life. Melody had to figure out what she wanted out of life and what was more important to her and being back in Ironbark definitely put her on the right path about that. Especially as she was motivated to stay there a bit longer because of the personal circumstances – she wasn’t really able to duck in and duck out quickly, as it seemed she had in the past when returning to visit her family. This made her spend more time with Hugh, who had been her high school boyfriend but had stayed behind in Ironbark for personal reasons when the two finished school. He’s now the local policeman and there are times when his role causes a bit of conflict with Melody but Hugh knows what he wants and has made it clear. It’s Melody who has to figure out where her heart really lies.

This was such an entertaining read, I was equally invested in both timelines and enjoyed all aspects of the story. I really do need to read some more of Kaye Dobbie’s books.


Book #181 of 2020

The Road To Ironbark is book #70 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020


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