Author: N.R. Walker
Release Date: September 25, 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary Suspense, Murder/Mystery
Page Count: 200
Reviewed by: CrabbyPatty
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.75 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.
“Tallowwood” is really an exceptional story – the police procedural aspect is fascinating and will keep you hanging along every page of the way, and the personal side is intensely sorrowful and heart-wrenching.
N.R. Walker is at the top of her game in this story of a man shouldering immense personal loss and struggling to solve a series of murders that everyone else seems determined to brush aside as suicides. Detective August Shaw works cold cases because he knows “Hope can break your heart every day for years, and living with false hope is hell on earth”:
And he had gone to work each and every day, even when on some days he could hardly get out of bed, because there was a part of his soul in each and every case. Because surely someone, somewhere had a broken heart like him. Someone, somewhere, had lost a loved one, just like him. And if he could ease their burden, if he could give them closure, then that’s what he would do.
Senior Constable Jacob Porter finds bones in his small rural community of Tallowwood linked to August’s case and the two men work together to solve the mystery of how the lives of so many young gay men have been snuffed out without anyone in law enforcement being willing to fully investigate. The slow but steady unfolding of the case matches the pace of the unlikely relationship between Jake and August. I love how their relationship is organic; there’s no cutesy meet or angsty miscommunication but rather a deep foundation of compatibility, trust and understanding. Jake’s wonderfully supportive family gives August the acceptance he never got from his own family and their relationship is one of healing and hope.
The light in his life had been extinguished years ago, and he’d welcomed the darkness and isolation. Until a little flickering beacon came into view, of hope and human contact, in the shape of Jacob.
N.R. Walker’s writing is so beautifully evocative, the structure of the story is solid, the character development of August and Jake is rich and detailed …. so it almost pains me to bring up the one aspect of “Tallowwwood” that I thoroughly disliked.
- The absolute refusal of the police department to even consider there is a very prolific serial killer loose is just staggering. There’s ignorance, and then there’s the level of incompetence combined with criminal obstruction that we see in “Tallowwood.” I found this aspect very jarring and hard to swallow given the complexity and depth of the rest of the plot which just felt realistic and true.
My rating is 4.75 stars rounded up to 5 stars, and I highly recommend “Tallowwood” for its lyrical language and jarring emotional impact.
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