All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart

on October 15, 2021

Digging Up Dirt (Poppy McGowan Mysteries #1)
Pamela Hart
Harlequin AUS
2021, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Renovations are hell. And that’s before you find the body beneath the floorboards. An intriguing mystery from a stylish new voice in crime fiction, for readers of Kerry Greenwood and Holly Throsby.

When your builder finds bones under the floor of your heritage home, what do you do? For TV researcher Poppy McGowan, the first step is to find out if the bones are human (which means calling in the cops and delaying her renovations) or animal (which doesn’t).

Unfortunately, ‘help’ comes in the form of Dr Julieanne Weaver, archaeologist, political hopeful, and Poppy’s old enemy. She declares the bones evidence of a rare breed of fat-tailed sheep, and slaps a heritage order on the site. The resultant archaeological dig introduces Poppy to Tol Lang, the best-looking archaeologist she’s ever met – and also Julieanne’s boyfriend.

When Julieanne is found murdered in Poppy’s house, both she and the increasingly attractive Tol are considered suspects – and so Poppy uses her media contacts and news savvy to investigate other suspects. Did Julieanne have enemies in the right-wing Australian Family party, for which she was seeking preselection, or in the affiliated Radiant Joy Church? Or at the Museum of New South Wales, among her rivals and ex-boyfriends? And who was her secret lover?

Can Poppy save herself, and Tol … and finally get her house back? 

This was…..okay. I think for me, the strength was really the setting. I really like inner-Sydney and sometimes books focus a lot on different areas of Sydney and they become too commonly represented in fiction. But Annandale is a fun suburb and Poppy’s job working at the ABC takes her around the city, to places like Luna Park and I feel like the feel of Sydney really came through. I was also interested in the renovation process, as Annandale is quite an old suburb and it seems like there’s a lot of things that could complicate the renovation, should there be a discovery of historical interest. Even the fact that the bones are sheep, not human, doesn’t let Poppy off the hook immediately. There are apparently, types of sheep that would be very interesting to historical societies!

Where I didn’t really enjoy this book, was the heavy themes of politics and religion and the combination thereof. I think the big church is kind of supposed to be like Hillsong? It had all the markers: a charismatic pastor who might be not quite what he seemed, his submissive and obedient wife and the perfectly turned out and well behaved children as well as a few people connected quite high up and the fact that they were dipping into pushing “family values” in politics where the only values they care about involve one white man, one white woman joined in holy matrimony before Jesus and the obligatory few children, all of whom attend church, wear purity rings and etc. As well as that, Poppy’s parents are devoted Catholics and expect Poppy and her siblings to all be virgins up until they marry (it’s 2021 and Poppy is like, 30 but okay Mum and Dad). Poppy is expected to attend Mass whilst living under their roof and all of that about religion just makes me feel very uncomfortable. Just let people make their own choices. Poppy is pretty clear in this about believing in God but it definitely seems like she’s forced into certain aspects of her parent’s beliefs. Also she sees herself as the disappointment of her family: she’s not married and her parents all seem infinitely surprised when she turns out to be good at her job or does well getting a plum interview. I also wasn’t sure how realistic that was, a researcher elevated to basically getting all the amazing interviews surrounding this murder and not one actual news reporter has any questions for Poppy about that.

There’s also a lot of weirdness about the romance. Poppy has a boyfriend, Stuart but he’s very boring and also turns out to be a liar and when Julieanne arrives to look at the bones, she brings her latest boyfriend, Bartholomew Lang (known as “Tol”). There’s this attraction between Poppy and Tol but his girlfriend is found dead in her house, which you’d think, might be a bit of a dampener, they’re also both “persons of interest” but they just keep having moments and both are quite flippant about dead Julieanne. I know she and Poppy were not friends and she and Tol were only together a few weeks or months but yikes, some of it just felt really, really cold. And I was not really keen for them to be a couple. Tol is also supposed to leave to go back on some dig overseas so I don’t know if he’ll return in future books – why do I feel like he’ll return just enough to mess up anything Poppy might have going with anyone else. Be one of those characters that pops in and out, when he is in-between digs, just doing enough so that Poppy maintains an interest in him.

I would be interested in reading the next instalment of this, hopefully without the religious and political overtones (sometimes, some of the issues with the conservative political party, felt mentioned really often) just to see whether it was the particular story itself that didn’t work for me or the character of Poppy as well because at the moment, I’m not really sure.

Didn’t love this one, didn’t really dislike it. It’s just in the middle.


Book #174 of 2021

Digging Up Dirt is book #75 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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