The Falls by B. Michael Radburn
Review by Kylie Thompson
Two weekend adventurers, on the hunt for a fabled hidden treasure, stumble upon far more than they’d bargained on. Instead of piles of gold, they’ve found the body of a young woman, stabbed through the heart. It’s clear that they’ve interrupted the killer’s plans to dispose of the woman’s body, and their run for safety becomes far more deadly when a nearby storm starts a raging bushfire.
Aroha Ross, though scared, is determined to find justice for the woman they found. She understands better than most that there’s a family out there, desperately waiting for a familiar voice they’ll never hear again. But by the time she can return with the local police, the body is missing, and any evidence is lost beneath a thick layer of ash and debris. There isn’t much the police can do, though the local Sergeant agrees to call in Aroha’s uncle for help.
Taylor Bridges is a park ranger, struggling to move past the death of his daughter and a stint in Tasmania that gave him more nightmares than it healed. Aroha’s father helped Taylor survive the loss, and Taylor’s not about to let the family down. But when the rains wash away the ash, and it becomes clear that Aroha and her partner have inadvertently uncovered a serial killer’s dumping ground, Taylor realises the enormity of the problem facing law enforcement.
The area is so isolated that their only way in and out is a local chopper pilot who might just have a death wish. So how on earth is a murderer bringing victims, or bodies, into the middle of nowhere without leaving a trail? More concerning is the subtle evidence that the killer might have returned, even after Taylor began staying in the area. All of the evidence leads back to a local legend about a cult that mined the area a century before, a cult that, according to rumour, burned their leader before disappearing without a trace.
When Aroha vanishes under the watchful eye of her police protection detail, Taylor and the police will have to push themselves further than they’d ever thought themselves capable of to try and get her back.
‘The Falls’ is a hell of a page-turner; rich with complex characters you can’t help but love, and the constant threat that they might not make it out alive. The characters are all well-developed, their backstories bringing conflict and resentments into the already tense situation. And that’s one of the reasons this story works so well- these aren’t cookie cutter characters, interchangeable and hard to care about. You can’t help but be drawn into their hopes, dreams, and fears, and you certainly can’t help worrying for their safety as the stakes rise dangerously higher.
The interplay between the legends of the past and the nightmares of the present makes for compelling reading, and it’s fascinating to watch the way Radburn weaves the personal and social narratives together throughout the story.
Though ‘The Falls’ quite literally starts with a blaze, its focus on character makes for a slow burn thriller rather than a constant rush of action and stress. If you prefer your thrillers with a constant ring of explosions, it might not be your particular brand of vodka, but if you enjoy stories that creep along your spine and linger in your mind when you’re trying to sleep, it certainly deserves pride of place on your TBR pile.
‘The Falls’ is published by Pantera Press/ Allen and Unwin, and is available through the publishers’ websites, and usual online and physical haunts.
Rating: 3 and a half stars