BRIGHT AIR
Barry Maitland

 


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Allen & Unwin, July 2008
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

The latest offering from the great Barry Maitland is a standalone novel that leads you gently along while keeping a firm hand on your shoulders, compelling you to stay seated and keep on reading.

Josh returns to Sydney from London with a background hint of something unsavoury having occurred at the Merchant bank where he worked. An old university friend, Anna, comes to visit him and tells him that she believes the death of his ex-girlfriend Lucy was not an accident, but possibly murder. While Josh was in London he had heard that Lucy died in a climbing accident on Lord Howe Island during a field study for her university degree. She was not alone when she died; other members of the climbing group were on the island: Owen, Curtis, Damien and Marcus. The official report found that her death was an accident, but her body was never recovered.

Anna believes it was not an accident or suicide because two more members of the party, Owen and Curtis, have recently died as a result of a climbing accident in New Zealand. Just before he died Owen said to Anna, “We killed her.” From there the story is told alternatively between the present and a succession of flashbacks. Here the reader learns that Josh got into rock climbing just so he could meet Lucy, and that the other members of the group only tolerated him because of Lucy. The mentor of the group was a university professor, Marcus.

To start with, the reader is not quite sure that a crime has been committed, and if it has, then why? Following the investigations of Josh and Anna, the pace gradually builds as the story moves from Sydney to Lord Howe Island; and the personalities and hidden tensions between the characters are slowly revealed. There is a marked growth in the characters of Josh and Anna. It is amazing to see Maitland do this; he gets right into the heads of his characters and brings the reader in to intimately respond to them. This is a sign of a very switched-on and intuitive writer.

BRIGHT AIR is Barry Maitland’s first stand alone crime novel, and the first he has set in Australia, I hope it is not going to be the last.

July 2008 review originally posted on Murder and Mayhem

 

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