Thought provoking Australian crime drama. Unexpected. Challenging. Utterly compelling.
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An Isolated Incident confounds expectations. It starts out as what appears to be a crime book in the typical sense. A popular local girl, Bella Michaels, in small town Australia goes missing, her body is found to national attention and the intense press coverage that goes with it. As days go by there is mounting pressure on the police to find the killer. However, the story isn’t about that. The hunt for the killer is something we are aware of but not really involved in. Our story is about Bella’s older sister Chris and the impact the sudden shocking loss has on her life and that of those around her. It’s also about the reporter May Norman who is covering the story and battling to gain the trust and confidence of a distrustful Chris in the immediate aftermath of the killing.
Emily Maguire’s book isn’t graphic in its depiction of a very violent death, rather Maguire uses your imagination against you. Demonstrating a keen understanding that what a person can imagine may actually be far worse than anything she could describe. We are given small details and lead to understand that this was a brutal crime, then we are left to our own devices. This device is used throughout, prompting you to reflect on how you might react if this was someone you cared about deeply.
In focusing on Chris and her grief, An Isolated Incident is a reflective story of how life can change quickly, how we shouldn’t take what we have for granted and how we should value those around us. This isn’t a story of perfection being destroyed though, there is no sense of bitterness in the writing, of seeing a fall from grace in a charmed life. Chris doesn’t have a perfect life, which makes her relatable and her suffering all the more impactful on the reader. Not being Australian it’s difficult to comment on the views of misogyny and racism that come through in the story. Nonetheless they are present and are issues clearly of importance to our author, good writing holds up a mirror to society and challenges you to question what is taken for granted. Maguire achieves this in looking at Chris and May’s experiences through this lens and telling the story entirely from a female perspective. In one memorable scene May has her concerns dismissed by a male police officer who just describes the person involved as ‘harmless’ and then condescends in placing an element of blame on May for having left her motel for a run without her mobile phone. Victim blaming is a theme that runs throughout the story.
Constantly challenging your expectations as a reader and how you view the world as a person, towards the end the story takes on an almost supernatural twist. I say almost as it’s not explicit and asks you to view grief and coping mechanisms from another almost spiritual perspective. How you respond will be entirely personal.
I read An Isolated Incident in just a couple of days, Chris and May are fully formed characters whom you want to spend time with, who you empathise rather than sympathise with. Emily Maguire has crafted an incredibly confident and assured novel which is unique in its focus. You’ll be drawn into the story and then thrown for a loop on multiple occasions. A wonderful slow burn of a story, this is Emily’s fifth novel and I will most certainly be searching out the other four.