A small town in outback Australia wakes to a crime of medieval savagery.
A local schoolteacher is found taped to a tree and stoned to death. Suspicion instantly falls on the refugees at the new detention centre on Cobb’s northern outskirts. Tensions are high, between whites and the local indigenous community, between immigrants and the townies.
Still mourning the recent death of his father, Detective Sergeant George Manolis returns to his childhood hometown to investigate. Within minutes of his arrival, it’s clear that Cobb is not the same place he left. Once it thrived, but now it’s a poor and derelict dusthole, with the local police chief it deserves. And as Manolis negotiates his new colleagues’ antagonism, and the simmering anger of a community destroyed by alcohol and drugs, the ghosts of his past begin to flicker to life.
Vivid, pacy and almost dangerously atmospheric, The Stoning is the first in a new series of outback noir featuring DS Manolis, himself an outsider, and a good man in a world gone to hell.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Stoning!
I spotted The Stoning on Twitter and felt myself drawn in by that gorgeous cover. It spoke of hot and dusty desolation and set all my spidey senses atingle. Reading the blurb, I knew it was a done deal. Outback noir? Hell yeah! In a world rife with thrillers of all sorts, I’m always on the look-out for elements that set them apart from all others, and a not-quite-common setting does wonders.
Although I have to admit I don’t think Cobb is really the place to be. For starters, a woman had just been murdered. I mean, murder happens in the best of towns, it’s not something that should prevent us from going somewhere or living there, murder is all around us.
Or do you suppose I read too many thrillers? Yet, this particular murder was particularly brutal: this woman was stoned to death. With the so-called brown house, Cobb’s immigration detention centre, just around the corner, the locals are eager to point the finger at refugees from countries where stoning is still common practice.
DS Manolis is sent from the city to Cobb, where he was born and raised, to help the local police force, such as it is, to find the culprit. The poor man has been there for all of 2 minutes and some so-and-so burns down his car. See what I mean about Cobb not being the place to be?
Manolis is a brilliant character, though. Anyone who shares their crackers with a possum and prevents someone from driving down a kangaroo, is a good person in my book, I don’t care how many crops said kangaroo might have destroyed. He’s originally Greek and he has some lingering Greek habits, he’s a bit of an outlier himself, which I think really helps him understand the refugee issues. He feels very authentic, he’s very hands-on, wants to get the job done but keeps hitting his head against a brick wall every which way he turns. His frustration is palpable but he never loses his wry sense of humour. I just love it when a book makes me snort wholly unladylike.
Strictly speaking a police procedural, The Stoning is very different from your average murder investigation. Cobb is like the wild west, with Manolis as acting sheriff trying to figure everything out while keeping everyone in line, including the actual sheriff. I adore small town settings with the characters veering from slightly off to completely bonkers, and the author did an amazing job with Cobb. The Stoning has a brilliant small town vibe that I’m sure fans of Chris Whitaker will lap up.
The refugee issues are a vital story element, and one that captured and kept my attention throughout, to some extent because it was completely new territory for me. It made me realise that I must have subconsciously considered Oceania so remote that it would not have any refugees, let alone that it would need halfway houses where refugees are detained until they either get permission to stay or are thrown out.
The Stoning also touches upon the Aboriginals and how they have been mistreated throughout history and that there is still racism towards them today. Again, something I had never considered. I’ve heard and read about the struggle of native Americans but I never realised that a native people on the other side of the world had gone through and are going through the same thing.
Last year, Gabriel Bergmoser introduced me to outback horror, now The Stoning has given me a taste of outback noir, and I have to say the Australian outback makes for a perfect setting! I thoroughly enjoyed my time with The Stoning, it’s both entertaining and thought-provoking, it’s extremely atmospheric throughout, and I can’t wait to be reunited with DS Manolis. Recommended.
The Stoning is out now in digital and audio formats and in hardcover.
Massive thanks to MacLehose Press and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.