In brief: Maddy is ready to return to the town that knows her deepest secrets. This time she’s in charge of the local medical centre and a force to be reckoned with. But the town is a shadow of its former self…
The good: Lovely story and great to reunite with some old characters.
The not-so-good: Really not keen on Phyllis or Jayden initially (they know how to bite!)
Why I chose it: Fiona McArthur’s books are a reward to my reading soul. Thanks to Penguin for the copy.
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Setting: Mainly outback Queensland, Australia
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Some days, all you feel like is a chocolate bar and a cup of tea (or whatever your vice may be). Fiona McArthur is one of my reading vices, and it just happens to be calorie free. Her novels of the Australia outback with a medical focus are just as satisfying and relaxing. The Bush Telegraph takes the reader to outback Queensland (a place that unless you live there, you’re unlikely to get to any time soon) and envelopes them in the heat and unique scenery. For long time readers of Fiona McArthur, it is a welcome return to the small outback town of Spinifex and a couple of the characters first seen in The Baby Doctor. New readers shouldn’t be disheartened, as the backstory of Maddy becomes clear early on in the text.
Maddy left Spinifex 11 years ago on the end of the biggest dramas to occur in the tiny town. She has always felt that she had something to prove and now she is ready to return to town. Maddy has grown up a lot since then – she’s now a nurse practitioner and more than well equipped to run the small town’s medical centre. Her daughter Bridget is now 11 and less certain of their move. When they arrive, it’s not as they expected, having had a near miss with a young boy driving a car erratically just outside of town. Maddy finds she’s needed in a professional sense to tend to his father and that’s how she meets Connor Fairhall. Like Maddy, Connor has his secrets and has returned home to run the family property. His son Jayden is running wild and his brother is in the depths of alcohol misuse. Maddy finds an ally in Connor, but not in one of her nurses, Phyllis, who was hoping for the centre to be shut down to obtain a redundancy package. All the characters have secrets that are hurting them and in between medical dramas, it’s up to them to help each other out.
I do like a good medical drama and The Bush Telegraph has them in spades, ranging from paediatrics to obstetrics and cardiology. It was fun to try and diagnose the patient alongside Maddy. (Fiona McArthur also deserves kudos for making the scenarios realistic and easy for the lay reader to understand, with added bonuses for those in the know). There is also plenty of interpersonal drama and conflict throughout the novel. Jayden has an incredibly rude mouth on him initially and Phyllis, although much older, isn’t much better. Both of them seemed set on initially making life difficult for anyone who dared step in their path. Unfortunately, that was Maddy, but she’s a stoic and wise woman with a few tricks up her sleeve. So the happy ending in The Bush Telegraph isn’t necessarily just about the romance, but about the friendships and personal growth in all the characters. Maddy and Connor’s reveals of their pasts were sensitively done, with realistic reactions on both sides.
The plot moves at such a pace that you can never say to yourself, ‘just one more chapter’ because it’s likely to be four…or five…or six. While several sensitive issues such as aging, alcoholism and domestic violence are included, the plot never felt ‘overstuffed’ or forced. The Bush Telegraph is a story that flows well and is ultimately uplifting.