Author: N.R. Walker
Release Date: September 25, 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary Suspense, Murder/Mystery
Reviewed by: CrabbyPatty
Heat Level: 2.5 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Cold cases, murder, lies, and an unimaginable truth
Sydney detective August Shaw has spent the last decade of work solving cold cases. Since the death of his boyfriend eight years ago, August works alone, lives alone, is alone — and that’s exactly how he likes it. His work is his entire life, and he’s convinced a string of unsolved cold-case suicides are linked to what could be Australia’s worst ever serial killer. Problem is, no one believes him.
Senior Constable Jacob Porter loves his life in the small town of Tallowwood in the middle of the rainforests in northern New South Wales. He runs summer camps for the local Indigenous kids, plays rugby with his mates, has a close family, and he’s the local LGBTQIA+ Liaison and the Indigenous Liaison Officer.
When human remains are found in the camping grounds at Tallowwood Reserve, Jake’s new case turns out to be linked to August’s cold cases, and Jake agrees they’re not suicides at all. With Jacob now firmly in August’s corner, they face one hurdle after another, even when more remains are found, they still can’t seem to gain ground.
But when the body of a fellow police officer turns up under the same MO, it can’t be ignored anymore. August and Jake must trace the untraceable before the killer takes his next victim or before he stops one of them, permanently.
Surprise! This reviewer really loves “gay” fiction, having been out and alive long enough to see
its secured popularity as an indication of our hard earned improved circumstances. I also
freely knowledge that the fillip, usually provided by explicit sexual component, is
frequently a tasty plus. But, happily, that aspect alone doesn’t govern the entire universe
of today’s gay literature. Tallowwood is a wonderful example of a story about gay men,
working a “gay” situation, but which isn’t primarily sexual. Rather, Tallowwood is a classic
who-dun-it, featuring two very diverse gay main characters trying, together, to solve the
murders of gay men which occurred over many years.
First, let’s consider our heroes. August, 41 years old, is well described in the Blurb, above.
Perhaps once carefree and humorous, coming out cost him his family. He is now a very
solitary person, likely because his own lover was an early crime victim. August is
profoundly sad, as if something was broken that he didn’t know how to fix. He has deep
feelings for the families of those murdered: he sees himself as the voice of the dead. Jake,
more than 10 years younger, is an out policeman – more a product of our current times. He
is the trifecta: gay, an Australian Aboriginal, and a policeman in a very rural area.
Surprisingly, none of those pose a negative. Jake is comfortably out to and with his family
and neighbors, he is successful at his work and he is a giving soul.
The review of any good mystery must be stingy in parsing facts, much as the author doles
them out only as needed. They are a main reason for reading the book. Here, much of the
dialog, especially that of the secondary characters, is appropriately terse and would easily fit
into any of our long-admired noir classics. Still, as with good crime mystery, while
minimizing unnecessary dialog, the author intimately familiarizes us with August and Jake:
we get to empathize with the former’s pain, and appreciate the latter’s warmth and
willingness to reach out. Our heroes are perfect together – Jake is a nurturer, and teaches
August that “You’re not broken . . . You just need someone who knows how your puzzle
goes back together.” They complete each other, emotionally and (eventually) physically, as
their relationship most sweetly finds its own eroticism.
Ms Walker manages to nicely bring us the “procedural” aspect of police and forensic
work so as to both immerse and educate us.
Ms Walker also provides the mandatory noir-ish tongue-in-cheek, much as we expect of
writers in any fun gay genre. Ex. Jake: “If you are asking if I’m gay or bi, then yes. Gay
as a unicorn on a rainbow with confetti and sparkles, dancing to a soundtrack of Cher or
Kylie Minogue.” (Are we connecting HERE with the character or the author, or both?) She also
can write real pretty: Ex. “Thunder rumbled its sympathies outside . . .”
Tallowwood’s plot points wind tighter and faster. We suddenly reach the clarity of the denouement,
at which moment the noir becomes well-lit, i.e., we know what the hell it’s all been about.
How well the effort is rewarded.