In brief: The final book in the Bunyip Bay series covers the story of Adam, who carries a deep sense of loss in his heart. When Stella and Heidi arrive for a holiday, Adam’s thoughts on children begin to change as the family mystery of 20 years begins to unravel.
The good: So many things! The cover (g’day Hugh Jackman) and the brilliance of the plot are just two of them that make the book a delicious read.
The not-so-good: So sad in places!
Why I chose it: I love Rachael Johns’ books – thank you to Harlequin for the eARC and to Rachael for signing the paper copy I bought.
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Setting: Western Australia
My rating: 10 out of 10
Oh Rachael Johns, you certainly know how to pull my heartstrings! Outback Ghost is not only a bloody brilliant book; it’s also an emotional journey of loss and overcoming fear. I think it’s her most powerful work to date.
Outback Ghost is the final book in the Bunyip Bay series and it’s a place that I’m very sad to leave. Why? I love the community feel of the small farming town, situated on the West Australian coast and I love the stories that have provided us with different aspects of living in such a small community. (I would love to see a book with Frankie from the café as a central character – I’m sure she has a secret hiding under her spiky dialogue). In this book, it’s Adam Burton’s turn. The Burton family is infamous in the local area for the mysterious disappearance of their daughter twenty years ago. The case was never solved and while Adam and his father have tried to move on, his mother has not left the family farm since. We meet the family on the anniversary of the disappearance (right in the middle of harvesting, which is an exceptionally busy time for farmers). Adam’s guilt always comes to the fore on this day, as he was the last person to see his sister alive and feels that he should have been more watchful. Then his father drops a bombshell – he’s leaving his mother. What can Adam do but get back on the harvester?
Meanwhile, Stella and her daughter Heidi are driving up the Brand Highway to their long-awaited holiday, a farm stay at the Burton’s cottage. Stella’s a single mum and Heidi is a girl with special needs, as she has Downs syndrome. Things between Stella and Adam don’t start off well, as Adam’s forgotten about his guests and is quite abrupt at discovering there’s a child on the property. There’s also a bit of tension of the sexual type between the two… Because Adam is a truly nice guy (just look at him on the cover – not only is he a dead ringer for Hugh Jackman, he has a heart of gold), he apologises and becomes friends with Stella and Heidi. Heidi is a wonderful character who injects sparkle into the narrative and those around her, even tempting Adam’s mum Esther into a tinge of happiness.
As the friendship between Adam and Stella grows, an eerie element is introduced. Heidi has always had imaginary friends, but this one just might be Adam’s missing sister. What should Stella do? Listen to Heidi’s fantasies, which are beginning to sound very real and risk damaging her relationship with Adam? Or is this the one chance they have to solve the mystery for good?
Outback Ghost is a wonderful story that balances romance with family and a touch of ghostly intervention. The characters are all unique and fully fleshed out – you won’t forget them in a hurry. Heidi is a girl you can’t help but fall in love with – she combines astute observations with the wonder of childhood. She’s just the girl to make Adam change his mind about children. Although both Stella and Adam have a past, it’s sensitively dealt with. Stella has a wisdom that belies her years and well, you can tell I’m head over heels for Adam (no wonder he was a Cleo bachelor of the year, I would have voted for him many times).
Rachael Johns just keeps getting better and better. I thought the suspense elements in Outback Blaze were brilliantly done, but the ghostly elements and the resulting heartbreaking find in Outback Ghost are flawless. She executes the scenes so well, balancing the raw emotion of the characters with the unfolding of the plot. She is a cracker of an author, and I can’t wait until her next book. I’m just going to have to reread all her books again in the meantime.