All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Shearer’s Wife by Fleur McDonald

on November 5, 2020

The Shearer’s Wife
Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin
2020, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

2020: When the Australian Federal Police swoop unheralded into Barker and make a shocking arrest for possession of narcotics, Detective Dave Burrows is certain there is more to the story than meets the eye. But the Feds insist that Dave is too invested in the town and its people to see the truth of what is happening there.

1980: Rose and Ian Kelly arrive in Barker for supplies before they begin shearing at Jacksonville Station, a couple of hundred kilometres out of town. Rose, heavily pregnant with their first babies, worries that despite Ian’s impending fatherhood he remains a drifter who dreams of the open road.

The twins arrive early and while Rose recuperates in town after a complicated birth, Ian stays at the Station to finish the shearing. When Ian turns up at job’s end ready to collect them all and move on, Rose is adamant that she and the twins need the support of the community in Barker. Impatiently, Ian sets off alone, leaving Rose and the children behind.

2020: After many months of grief over her brother’s illness and death, journalist Zara Ellison is finally ready to begin a new chapter of her life and make a commitment to her boyfriend, Senior Constable Jack Higgins. But when she’s assigned to investigating the Barker arrest, Jack begins to believe that Zara is working against him.

It takes a series of unconnected incidents in Zara’s digging to reveal an almost forgotten thread of mystery as to how these two events, forty years apart, could be connected.

I’ve read a few of Fleur McDonald’s books, including a couple with Detective Dave Burrows but I have to admit, I have missed the ones revolving around him as a more central character. I thought I’d missed 2-3 but it turns out it’s more like 6! Anyway, after reading this one I have to go back and rectify that as soon as possible because this was an incredibly gripping read. I really enjoyed it!

In 1980, Rose is a young woman who fell in love and escaped her parents’ quite strict rules and her small town living and went on the road with Ian, a shearer who worked his way around the country. For Rose, life on the road was exciting at first, until she fell pregnant and then they discovered it was twins. The bigger she gets, the more having a home and settling down seems like a really nice idea. But Ian loves the nomadic life, the road and he’s got plenty of lads around him at every station to keep him busy. It’s not the same for Rose, who wishes he was around more.

How this is connected to 2020 and Detective Dave Burrows’ life as a country policeman in Barker, South Australia is a mystery at first. Dave is out of sorts when the Australian Federal Police turn up on his patch and start muscling him out of a bust surrounding a local woman. Dave knows that whatever it looks like, there’s got to be more to the story but the Feds aren’t interested and even go so far as to insinuate that Dave is past it, no idea what’s happening on his own patch. Barred from investigating, Dave decides to talk to local journalist Zara – give her something to sink her teeth into and he knows she’ll get the job done.

I really felt for Rose, she was very young and it seemed like she’d lived a bit of a sheltered life, not explored much. She latched onto Ian and the chance to leave as quick as she could but in her desire to escape kind of ended up the one thing that she was actually trying to escape. And as fun and carefree as life on the road is for two young adults, add in a pregnancy, especially a pregnancy of twins and things change very quickly. Growing up in a car, driving 12 hours a day isn’t an ideal place for young babies and it doesn’t take Rose long to realise it’s not the life she wants anymore. But Ian isn’t willing to listen to any of her concerns. He spends too much time listening to the old bachelor shearers about not being told what to do by the “old ball and chain” than he does his wife, even when Rose is desperately unwell and has an incredibly complicated birth. Ian was a dill.

In the modern day story, Dave Burrows knows there’s more than meets the eye after the arrest and I really appreciated getting to know the characters in this small town. I especially enjoy Dave and his wife Kim, who is a strong character who provides a lot of support for her husband but she isn’t afraid to rock the boat a little in order to do what she feels is right. Because I have missed a few books, I wasn’t up to speed on Zara and Jack (although there is enough information here that it doesn’t really affect the reading experience, I just like to know more, which is why I’m definitely going to go back and catch up on the books that I’ve missed!) but I found them incredibly interesting, as a journalist and a police officer in a relationship. Obviously there are times that’s going to cause conflict (this is kind of one of them in a way) when Zara is trying to find out things and Jack can’t tell her what’s happening. Zara is also having some trouble dealing with some issues that have happened in her past and it’s really beginning to affect her in this book, she’s not sleeping very well, she’s snappy and quick to anger (especially at Dave and Jack) and she’s putting herself in situations that could’ve ended badly. But despite all that she’s determined to find out what is happening, especially when Dave gives her a few tidbits of information and sends her on her way. Zara has a good “nose” for a story and she has to convince her editor that there’s something in it but it does pay off.

The two stories in this meld together beautifully and each kept me riveted. I picked up this to read in bed on Sunday morning while I had a cup of tea, thinking I’d maybe read for 50p or so…..instead I read 200p before I could bear to put it down and that was just so I could have a shower and then I had to pick it up again. I enjoyed everything about this and I’m ready to go and binge the books I’ve missed – hopefully they’re all just as good as this one.


Book #220 of 2020

The Shearer’s Wife is book #83 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

2 responses to “Review: The Shearer’s Wife by Fleur McDonald

  1. Mic says:

    Glad you loved this. I have loved them all. I’m sure when you go back you won’t be disappointed.
    I have missed one, which I was sure I had but apparently not. Must rectify that (as soon as i can justify it considering the amount of money being spent on the house atm)

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