In brief: Lyn and Adam live a quiet life in the near deserted town of Tewinga. But secrets grow in the tiny town when their worker disappears and Lyn finds out the truth about her family, culminating in a lot of unwanted excitement.
The good: Always something happening!
The not-so-good: I had some trouble fitting this story to a time period.
Why I chose it: From the kind people at Penguin Australia.
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Setting: Queensland, Australia
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Kerry McGinnis always writes a story that is both interesting and unique. His novels combine family tension with suspense in a rural setting that is not your average country town. She’s done it again in The Heartwood Hotel, a story set in a town with less than ten inhabitants. Don’t think though for a minute that this story is going to be dull – there is enough action and intrigue for a much larger town!
I think this book is set in the early 1990s (it was a little difficult to tell, as there is a reference to the wet season of 1990-91), so there isn’t any internet, mobile phones or social media in this story. In fact, a minor subplot involves the installation of a Telecom pay phone! Once I got this straight in my head, I was fine with this book as I knew we couldn’t locate any lost people with their phone signal or use GPS. The time period makes the setting even quainter – there are paper letters involved and people can truly just disappear. For Lyn and Adam Portman, living in Tewinga is somewhat of a blessing and a curse. Running the only store, petrol pump and pub in town with Lyn’s father is a seven day a week, 365 day a year job. But it helps calm Adam, who is a Vietnam veteran and lets Lyn keep an eye on her aging father. It’s a happy, simple life until it’s not. There are some nasty types on a nearby station who take pot-shots at Lyn and Adam’s worker, Max. The local policeman is too lazy to care. Then things really kick off with a helicopter crash and Max failing to return from a weekend expedition. Lyn is sure something bad has happened, but the police aren’t keen to take things seriously. Meanwhile, a chance finding of a photograph and a conversation between Lyn and her brother start a chain of events that will reveal the secrets in Lyn’s family. Will she make it through the drama unscathed?
As you might have guessed, there is a lot happening in The Heartwood Hotel. On reflection, I have a lot of appreciation for Kerry McGinnis’s plotting skills. Everything in the story happens for a reason and ties in just so to the other events (even if you can’t quite see it at the time). While Lyn is a very clever and compassionate character, she’s not quite perfect which prevented her from being annoying. Max, the worker, is a sweetheart, who you can’t help but worry for. Both his youth and shy courtship of a governess on a local station is lovely to read. Likewise, Max’s father is sturdy and wise. Kirsty and son Benjy, who run the campground, are quite intriguing characters. Kirsty quite clearly has a history of troubled times, but she’s a gruff, stoic character who will bring a smile or two to your face as she slowly becomes part of the community. Perhaps my favourite ‘character’ of all was the tiny town of Terwinga. A blink and you’ll miss it place with just a few buildings at the end of a deserted railhead town, it got under my skin. I can still picture the buildings, the way sunlight and the heat got into them and see the dust moving down the street. It’s an authentic representation of the beauty of the Australian Outback and the history these now quiet towns hold.
Overall, The Heartwood Hotel is a captivating read combining suspense with family drama. I look forward to reading more and more by Kerry McGinnis to capture the Australian Outback when I can’t get there myself.