The Girl In The Hard Hat by Loretta Hill

Published January 1, 2013 by Bantam Australia (a division of Random House Australia)

Paperback, 359 pages

Copy courtesy of Random House Australia – read in December 2012

5/5 Stars

I know it’s often a long shot, but Loretta Hill’s second novel is just as good, if not better than her first one. For if Hill proved to have a lot of potential in her debut novel The Girl In the Steel-Capped Boots, than she more than demonstrates her growth as a writer in The Girl in the Hard Hat cementing herself firmly in the role of a must read emerging author.

At the end of  The Girl In the Steel-Capped Boots we get the barest of glimpses of a new female character entering the Pilbara’s domain, and its through he Girl in the Hard Hat that we get to know her a lot better. Wendy Hopkins has been out of work for the last couple of years, although that’s not really a concern for her right now, for two years ago her mother dropped the biggest bomb – Wendy’s dad was not her biological father. Even since learning the truth, Wendy has been on a mission and fighting against the odds to find a father who practically abandoned her at birth. Armed with only the knowledge that her father was once a welder and has an interesting injury (I won’t give away what) she sets out on a mission to find him. And where exactly does this search lead her? To the Pilbara of course!

Landing the job as the new OHS (safety) manager Wendy knew she was in for a tough time. A prospect made even worse when within hours of her arrival on site she brought about the dismissal of the long standing previous OHS manager – a man who was meant to be boss. Hated instantly on spot, Wendy isn’t out to make friends; rather she is determined to bring the long list of overdue safety issues back in line, no matter the cost. Slowly Wendy earns the respect of the men through sheer determination and her ability to wear just about everything they throw at her. Except for maybe Gavin Jones, who despite her best efforts, Wendy is unable to leave alone. All looks to be improving for Wendy with a budding romance slowly blossoming away, that is until Jones’ past gets in the way and he retreats from everyone around him. With cyclone season fast approaching Wendy has her hands full making sure the boys are ready for the coming storm season and is a little too preoccupied to dwell on anything else. Including the long lost search for her father.

With an explosive ending that had me sitting on the end of my seat and reading until the early hours of the morning The Girl in the Hard Hat is not a book to be missed. It is sure to have something for everyone – a bit of romance, a bit of suspense and a whole lot of mystery. While its true I could never have predicted Gavin’s story line – I just thought he was a notorious player and a bit of womaniser – I do feel that the father search and big reveal was a bit predicable. Maybe not in terms of the way in which everything exploded at once with the cyclone (boy did I love everything about that plot line), but from the beginning of the book I was fairly certain where this father search was heading. So much so that early on I made a list of things I thought would happen. This included my initial thoughts as to who the mystery father was; and I was right on the money. Other things listed varied from who Wendy would end up with (and although I was right there, I was wrong about so much else) to the identity and the purpose of the new girl hanging around Bulldog. I could have sworn at one stage that apart from antagonising Lena she was there as some sort of link to Gavin’s history in some far out way. She’s not. You can all rest easy. She’s a bit of fun, and I’d say possibly the new protagonist in the next book in this series judging by the way Loretta sets up her books.

The old cast of characters (Lena, Bulldog, Carl and Sharon) are back and for the most part are just as great, although Lena Todd does slip back into her early days for a bit of one-dimensional character solely focused on Bulldog and lacks her usual spunk (I must admit to liking her more in the first book, but she does come around slowly in the end to the character we all know and love). I very much enjoyed the interactions between our favourite group of previous characters and their growth (for the most part) and development from the first to second book, particular where Gavin Jones is concerned. Hill gave the perfect mix of contrast between his outer persona that we are used to from the first book against a more complex and emotionally conflicted ‘true’ inner Gavin that we met for the first time here. We also get some new characters in the form of Wendy’s new co-horst Chub who brings a lot of laughs to the already fun packed story. I think I would have like more of a development into his and Annabel’s relationship or lack thereof. Their relationship just suddenly appears to be there in the end and it’s a shame because Chub is quite an interesting and unexpected character. Overall the pace of the novel is spot on with tension building slowly in the background until it all hits home with the full force of the cyclone.

All in all a great sequel from one of Australia’s emerging writers, one with a bright future ahead of her no doubt. Don’t worry though if you haven’t read the first book in the series, because all though many of the characters are the same, the book can be read as a stand alone; in doing so you would be doing yourself a slight disfavour by not enjoying the first novel but its not essential to your understanding of this one.

Thank you to Random House Australia for the copy of this novel I received.

This review also appears on my Goodreads profile.

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