Dead Heat by Bronwyn Parry

Hachette Australia

March 27, 2012

352 pages

5/5 stars

I have a slight confession to make, until recently I had never heard of Bronwyn Parry and thus never read of any her work. And to be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure what drew me to her novel in the first place, but boy am I glad that the universe had other plans for me. Just wish I’d read it sooner 🙂

Set within rural NSW, Dead Heat is the story of Jo Lockwood, a National Park Ranger, who despite having been in town for a couple of months, prefers to be alone in the outdoors. She thrives on it in fact. That is until one day while making her rounds in the newly opened National Park she stumbles across the discovery of a brutally murdered body and her world is thrown into chaos. Cue Detective Nick Matheson, who’s recent posting in the area is meant to be his quite return to ‘normal duties’ following some ten years as an undercover officer. Matheson quickly discovers Lockwood to be not only an asset to the case in terms of her local knowledge of the area (remember she works virtually non-stop in the bush), but is also quick to establish that while Lockwood holds the case’s key to being solved, after all she has potentially met and seen the killers face already. Within a short time a second body is discovered, and then a third, turning Lockwood’s idyllic country town into a criminal playground with gun running, police corruption, snipers and the discovery of drugs pointing towards the establishment of a new criminal cartel. None of which bodes well for poor Jo Lockwood with evidence quickly emerging to suggest she may be the next target. So together, Lockwood and Matheson are thrown together on one hell of a rollarcoaster ride to not only solve the initial crime, but to stop the criminal master minds from hurting anybody else – especially where Jo Lockwood may be concerned.

From the get go, Dead Heat is one hell of a page turner, so much so that I found myself reluctant to put the book down for even a second, little know to get some sleep and go to work. The story is a captivating mix of suspense and romance, where refreshingly enough, nothing seems too forced. A point I think is helped through the dual protagonist’s nature of the story, whereby Parry uses third person narration to give the reader better insight into both Jo and Nick’s thought process’, feelings and actions. The characters themselves are for the most part well rounded, both characters revealing certain strengths and weakness as the story develops, and their romance is neither forced nor rushed. In fact, for most of the book it sort of just dangles there, slightly out of reach for both characters, and although the strength of their connection is illustrated, Parry wisely distances herself from forcing the characters into a relationship too quickly and too conveniently. Instead, she allows their connection, and emotions, to develop naturally over time, creating a well rounded set of characters and novel (she has the same natural progression with the story itself). While I understand that Parry had a lot more to work with Nick Matheson’s character with his troubled past and the problems associated with being undercover for so long, I still feel that I would have liked to see Jo Lockwood’s character develop a bit more, especially in terms of her back story. Don’t get me wrong, her character is by no means stunted or one dimensional, its just we never seemed to move further into her past other than to acknowledge the loss of her fiancé some years before.

On a more personal note, having recently travelled through many of the places in which Parry’s novel is set, I frequently caught myself smiling whilst reading. The likeness to the places, and the people, were captured so perfectly that I could help but nod my head in agreement at some of the remarks throughout the novel. At times, I even found myself in awe almost at the way in which Parry not only represented these towns, their communities and the landscape, but the way in which each and everyone of them were utilised almost as characters themselves. When thinking back to the times that I’ve heard people – mainly Professors at Uni – speaking about Australian fiction and literature (which in itself is such a rare thing to be hear) everyone almost always feels the end to mention the fiction itself in regard to place – both in name and setting – and until now I’ve never really understood the preoccupation that people have with it. I mean at times, it simply felt as though once could only discuss Australian fiction if they were discussing it terms of the landscape, because nothing else ever really mattered and you could never rate a piece of work based on anything else for it, nor could you talk about Australian writing (or so it seemed) if you did not highlight and talk exclusively about place, the landscape etc.. Now, having travelled rurally around the country, I understand a bit of the concept in terms of how the place and landscape makes the people who they are in an exclusively Australian setting. And in Parry’s novel you can see the way in place and the landscape, in fact the country-ness and rural-ness is not only explored in terms of the setting, but through characters, the plot, and almost used as a character itself, and while Parry does a marvellous job at this, I still think there is so much more going on in the novel that Parry and other Australian writers need to be credited for that has absolutely nothing to do with place, that can be uniquely Australian in feel presentation or representation. And frankly I feel that the way that Parry does this in this particular novel is through the representation of the crime and the legal processes and difficulties that within Australia aren’t recognised or really thought of. Take for instance, Lockwood and her outlook of the country as this beautiful being, who is honest and dangerous, although not there to hurt you; its small, it’s quiet and its idyllic and somewhat romantic. Parry takes this setting and infuses it with both the ease in which a criminal cartel could establish itself within such a quiet and isolated aspect of society and place, which also establishing some pretty big hurdles for not only the crims (they don’t know the area, they don’t know the land or the way in which things run) but for the authorities as well (having to wait for hours for resources and people – being ill equipped for something on this magnitude – and the simply fact that things could simply slip through so much easier. The initial murder may never have been discovered because people the country is so vast and isolated). It’s this twist on what known and often stereotypical (the land as one, quiet, beautiful and isolated) that really works for Parry and makes the story and the writing stand out so much more.

As mentioned earlier, this is the first work of Bronwyn Parry’s that I’ve read, and it was such a gem of a book to find that I’m looking forward to reading her other two novels now. I’m glad that for whatever reason, I stumbled across Dead Heat, as its not only widened my reading pool, but introduced me to another new voice and face on the Australian writing front, while opened my eyes a bit more to the diversity within not only female writing (I’ve read this book as part of the Australian Women’s Writer’s challenge for 2013), but for rural and romantic suspense type novels

 This review originally appeared on Goodreads on January 4, 2013 and can be found here : http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/390498938

 This book was read as part of the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge 2013

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