In brief: Charlie thought she had left her family baggage behind for good. But now work is taking her back to the small town where she grew up, and not with good news…
The good: I found the storyline about the Hendra virus (which affects horses) really interesting.
The not-so-good: Bit of a shocking scene near the end – didn’t see that coming!
Pages: 328 (ARC)
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Setting: Rural New South Wales, Australia
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Close to Home is a book that fulfils my need for rural Australian stories that are fun to read, with a dash of romance. It stands out from the pack though for integrating a dose of science into the story (please, don’t turn away now – it’s well done and never boring) with the heroine being a vet and the plot being treatment of a suspected Hendra virus outbreak. (Hendra affects horses, but can also make the jump to humans. There have been several outbreaks in Australia – this story deals with a fictional one). It’s a ripping read, ticking all my boxes for a great story. This is my first Pamela Cook novel, but I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more.
Close to Home centres around Charlie, a vet for the Department of Primary Industries. She’s had some experience with Hendra virus and has even done some research on it. Naturally, when an outbreak is suspected on the south coast of New South Wales, she’s the obvious choice to handle it. Unfortunately for Charlie, she knows Naringup very well – she grew up there after being orphaned as a child. She swore she’d never return, but here she is. Charlie’s memories of a dull town don’t quite match up to the new reality – Naringup is thriving. However, she’s got a job to do and it turns out that the suspected case is on the farm of her cousin and her husband. The atmosphere is glacial, as Charlie hasn’t spoken to Emma since she left town and Emma’s husband Garth is not pleased at being told to do. His actions bring Charlie’s aunt into the scandal and suddenly Charlie is forced to confront the past she has locked away. Lucky for her there is friendship with the local policewoman Jac and maybe a bit more with Joel, Jac’s brother in law and local park ranger.
I found the process of quarantine and testing for Hendra virus very interesting. This is something I’ve heard of, but really didn’t know too much about. The local community’s reaction to the outbreak was also interesting, as feelings ranged from fear to anger. Charlie and Jac certainly had their work cut out for them, as did Joel when the public learned that bats may transmit the virus to horses. But it’s not all work for Charlie, her growing relationship with Joe is also a delight to read in its gentleness and ultimately happiness. The subplot of domestic violence in its different shapes and forms leant a darker side to the narrative. I felt that Pamela Cook handled it well, being sympathetic to both Emma and Hazel, but capturing Charlie’s reluctance to understand why each woman remained with their partner. In summary, Close to Home was very well crafted. There was a nice balance of lighter and more serious moments, plus a scene I really didn’t see coming! Fortunately the shock led to some gentler scenes and a happy ever after for those involved.
I found Close to Home a light read, which I certainly don’t mean in a denigrating way – it was just perfect for relaxing with after work each night. The story was entertaining, the dialogue realistic and it was just what I needed. Plus, I learned some things about Hendra virus, so I feel like it was a bit of research reading too. It would be a lovely weekend read too (providing you don’t have other plans)!