All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Cutters End by Margaret Hickey

on September 14, 2021

Cutters End
Margaret Hickey
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}: A scintillating crime thriller, set in the South Australian outback town of Cutters End. A mysterious death on New Year’s Eve 1989 leads to a shocking murder investigation 32 years later…

A desert highway. A remote town. A murder that won’t stay hidden.

New Year’s Eve, 1989. Eighteen-year-old Ingrid Mathers is hitchhiking her way to Alice Springs. Bored, hungover and separated from her friend Joanne, she accepts a lift to the remote town of Cutters End.

July 2021. Detective Sergeant Mark Ariti is seconded to a recently reopened case, one in which he has a personal connection. Three decades ago, a burnt and broken body was discovered in scrub off the Stuart Highway, 300km south of Cutters End. Though ultimately ruled an accidental death, many people – including a high-profile celebrity – are convinced it was murder.

When Mark’s interviews with the witnesses in the old case files go nowhere, he has no choice but to make the long journey up the highway to Cutters End.

And with the help of local Senior Constable Jagdeep Kaur, he soon learns that this death isn’t the only unsolved case that hangs over the town… 

The Australian outback is such a perfect setting for a crime novel. It’s probably the perfect setting for crime in real life. There are parts of this country where it’s probably possible to go days, maybe even weeks, without coming across another soul. There are no doubt, loads of places to bury a body and have it not be discovered for years – maybe never.

This is a dual timeline beginning in 1989 with Ingrid waiting for her friend Joanne so they can continue hitching north from South Australia into the Northern Territory and Alice Springs. It’s incredibly hot, dusty and bored of waiting, Ingrid accepts a lift. And then in 2021, a strange case of “accidental death” from that time period in 1989 is reopened and Acting Inspector Mark Ariti is put in charge of examining whether or not the correct decision was reached all those years ago. He’s chosen because he went to school with both Ingrid and Joanne and there’s feeling that perhaps they know more than they let on all those years ago.

I was a bit young, but from what I can remember, hitchhiking used to be pretty common in the 80s. And probably into the 90s. I definitely feel that Ivan Milat most likely is the reason it definitely became less popular but I forget that it probably was very prevalent, even in these remote areas – maybe especially in them, where other modes of transport were few and far between. The idea though, of a couple of girls just out of school hitchhiking their way up the middle of the country is, in this day and age, very troubling. And for good reason.

I did enjoy this but I thought that it might’ve been better to choose a woman as the main investigative viewpoint. Mark is, to be honest, the sort of character I’ve read in a thousand previous crime novels: middle aged, going ‘through some stuff’ in his marriage, certain things in his past that have contributed, etc. He’s on annual leave and is basically strong-armed into this with promises of potential to move up the ladder and not being sent back to where he was working before his leave. Mark had background with both Ingrid and Joanne, having gone to school with both and even been in a relationship with Ingrid for a time. I actually think that Senior Constable Jagdeep Kaur would’ve been an interesting perspective to read from, particularly as a character like Mark arrived from elsewhere. Her attitude towards him was quite amusing at times and she had some pithy comments about police hierarchy. It also kind of astounded me that as a cop, Mark once asked his wife in the present day if she’d ever felt afraid in the presence of a man or because of one. It seemed a terribly shortsighted sort of question in 2021 in general, especially from someone who had been a police officer for 20+ years. This book did have some really interesting things to say about violence towards women and the ways in which certain crimes were/would’ve been looked at by the police in 1989. Back then, it was very much an attitude that domestic issues were personal business and most people looked the other way when a woman had a black eye or a bruise. And in the present day, Mark’s wife is a lawyer attempting to prosecute violent husbands, often with disastrous results. How much has really changed?

I did really enjoy the setting of this, which is important in a rural crime novel. I haven’t read a lot set in South Australia, but the desolate country, dusty and barren landscape with its small towns and cast of characters, many of whom are probably hiding something or other, worked well for me. I wasn’t super taken with Mark as a main character though, mostly just because it felt like he had nothing else that set him apart from others in the genre. There’s a real emphasis on middle-aged male detectives who are either divorced or about to be or hanging onto a failing marriage grimly and wondering why whilst spending endless days and nights away doing the job. I did however, enjoy the dynamic between both Joanne and Ingrid and why things were the way they were.

A quick and easy read.


Book #157 of 2021

Cutters End is book #68 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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