Jo Lockwood is a National Parks Ranger who has recently taken up a new job at a newly-declared State Forest in north-western NSW. The solitary life doesn’t much bother her, she enjoys her own company and the peacefulness that comes from working with nature. That peace is shattered when she discovers the dead body of a man who has been brutally tortured not far off a walking track.
Detective Nick Matheson is also starting a new job. He’s a former undercover officer who was involved in a scandal when an operation went wrong and now he finds himself in a supposedly quiet area in northern NSW where the peace is disrupted by Jo’s discovery of a body. Nick is immediately suspicious about certain things about the murder and crime scene – to him this doesn’t look like a once off. It isn’t long before they dig up some links to an unsolved murder on the Mid North Coast of NSW and some whispers of an infiltrating overseas group.
Jo and Nick realise before long that it seems Jo may have inadvertently spoken to the leader of this organisation and because of that, could identify him. Her life is now in great danger and Nick wants to protect her. Jo is determined not to leave the area though, consenting to police protection in her own house but the bodies keep coming and before long Jo realises that this danger is not going to go away until one of them – her or the leader – is dead.
Dead Heat is the latest novel from Bronwyn Parry and it had been on my radar for a little while. I’d seen some good reviews and I do love a good suspenseful mystery. When I finally got my hands on it by way of my local library, I was definitely not disappointed. Dead Heat opens with a bang with Jo discovering the body of a dead man that, they later discover, has been tortured horribly before finally being shot.
I’ve been reading a lot of rural lit lately, a genre that I have mentioned before on the blog as gaining a lot in popularity in recent times. Usually they’re set on farms and although I’d include this in the broad spectrum of rural lit there are a few differences. The setting is undeniably rural, deep in north-western NSW in a made-up town that sounds suspiciously like a couple of real towns, name-wise. A large area has just been given over to official National Park status and it’s Jo’s job to keep law and order around the various camp grounds, walking tracks and also to supervise backburning and/or the putting out of deliberately or accidentally lit fires with the support of the CFA (Country Fire Authority). There’s a lot of appreciation for the land in this book, Jo in particular has a real affinity for it and it’s clear she loves her job. She suffered a trauma in recent times and she’s moved location to perhaps escape the memories. She seems very comfortable in her own company either at home or out in the bush, alone out there with only her camera.
In terms of characterisation, I felt that both Nick and Jo were very strong. Nick comes from a very poor and violent background, dragged himself out of it and made detective in the police force, going into some very dangerous undercover operations. He has an inner strength and discipline that is necessary for his job, that has allowed him to do things for his work. He has played many roles and sometimes feels as though it is hard to be just ‘Nick’ and that people are wary of him because of the rumours and scandal that has surrounded him.
There is an element of romance in this book but it remains mostly in the background. There’s an immediate attraction between Nick and Jo but both of them work hard to suppress it. The story of the murders and who is behind them is always first and the most important part of the book. Parry takes a long time to build her story, carefully fleshing out details and weaving an intricate crime web that is quite impressive! Nick and Jo spend a lot of time together under the guise of Nick protecting Jo from a very real danger and I appreciated that – they get to know each other with Nick being able to relax himself just a bit and actually talk to someone as his own person, rather than just a character he has undertaken in order to complete a job. Both of them have had some pain in their past and they aren’t sure they can see a future together, given Nick’s job. They talk about things, primarily the case and I thought that Nick sharing things with her and Jo sharing things that she finds out, was very refreshing. All too often I read mystery/crime novels where the characters all keep secrets from each other, presumably to draw out the suspense and lengthen the time until things are solved which usually only serves to frustrate me! I appreciated this novel because the criminal is identified early on into the story and the book then revolves around actually catching him.
Dead Heat was a wonderful read – it drew me in right from the beginning and kept me intrigued all the way. It’s Bronwyn Parry’s third novel and I’ll definitely be tracking down her previous two to read as well because I very much enjoyed the way she writes. I also enjoyed the unique setting, showcasing the lovely natural bush that can be found in much of the north of my home state.
Book #70 of 2012
Dead Heat qualifies for my 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. It’s the 23rd book completed so far.