IAt the opening of Holly Throsby’s latest novel, Clarke, a team of police officers arrive at a suburban house with digging tools and ground-penetrating radar. Across the road and over the fence, neighbors who knew the previous owner of the house watched in horror and relief. The day they had been waiting for for years finally arrived.
It’s a familiar premise for anyone who has followed the real case of NSW woman Lynette Dawson, whose 1982 disappearance was revealed by award-winning podcast The Teacher’s Pet. In August, her husband, Chris Dawson, was convicted of murder 40 years ago, and Dawson is appealing.
“I listen to ‘The Teacher’s Pet’ like about 30 million other people,” Throsby said from her home on the coast of NSW, where she lives with her young family and a puppy who grumbles backstage.
It was one small detail of a police investigation into Dawsons’ former Bayview home in 2018 that caught Throsby’s imagination. “The people who lived in that house didn’t know the history of the house,” she said. “These officers came to their door for this historic crime, completely unaware that there might be a body buried in their backyard.”
“That is [launching] Opinion; how would it feel on a human level if the police arrived and the property you lived in suddenly revealed this history to you? “
This history brings together two of Clark’s main characters: Barney, who was recently estranged from his wife and son and now rents the former home of missing woman Ginny Lawson; and his neighbor Leonie, an adventurous travel agent who lives in the mother’s house. Raising a 5 year old boy without him.
“I wanted to write a book about crime, but at the same time, it was more about the repercussions people felt around the victim and how it affected their lives,” she said.
“When I finished the first draft, it was really an exploration of people trying to avoid feeling pain, and how avoiding feeling pain creates more pain.”
Like Throsby’s previous novels, Clarke doesn’t have to be a detective. But the issues that unfold gently over dining tables, backyard fences, and landlines (all of Throsby’s novels take place on the pre-1990s internet) prove in their own way compelling, tragic, and human. . “They’re a crime-fighting crime novel—set a crime novel and then flip those expectations on its head,” she said of her earlier books.
Her last book, Cedar Valley, published in 2018, made repeated references to the story of the so-called Somerton Man, who died anonymously on Adelaide Beach in 1949, fuelling the Decades of espionage theories, false leads, and code-breaking. For Throsby, part of the conspiracy of the case is that it may not be a crime at all—a recent breakthrough proves the man’s story is smaller and sadder than the more sensational theories shared online.
“Sometimes the results and answers are mundane, and that may often be the case,” she said.
Mystery novels set in small Australian towns have become big business since Throsby’s debut Goodwood came out in 2016, just months after Jane Harper’s bestseller The Dry. While Throsby’s books use some familiar scenarios—missing women, local rumor mills, and eccentric locals—they often eschew some of the extremes that made the “Outback Black” genre a publishing phenomenon.
“I didn’t want it to feel like a scary outpost,” Throsby said. “I do think there’s a metaphor that the landscape is these inherently dangerous outposts. Whether it stems from the picnic at Hanging Rock or the Wolf Creek thing, there’s some idea of small communities being closed to outsiders, [and] There is something inherently dangerous about the landscape itself. “
Clark did not gild parochialism, domestic violence, and racism. But Throsby’s work once again highlights the warmth and humor that also exists in regional communities. It’s more northerly than Cry.
This is something Throsby first encountered in the rest of her life as a singer-songwriter. Growing up in metropolitan Sydney, she spent her 20s and 30s on “long and grueling regional tours” before moving out three years ago.
“If you’re a bigger artist, you can afford to have a show in the capital,” she said. “But we were never like that – we had to tour endlessly. But I have developed so much love for remote Australia and a lot of information that I will use in my novel. So much in the book It’s all something I learned while recording music or touring in small towns – and then realizing I liked it so much I moved out of the city.
“I was like, ‘What am I doing in the city when my imagination is in these small neighborhoods? I just need to move.'”