x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bereft: a sun-drenched gothic mystery

After a plea from a psychic, a war veteran returns to the former gold-mining town where he is wanted for his sister's murder.

Quinn Walker is discovered kneeling over his young sister’s dead body, a knife in his hand, but he flees the murder scene before he can be apprehended.

The townsfolk of Flint, a former gold-mining town in rural Australia, assume Quinn is guilty of his sister’s murder, and “there hovered about its public places a guilty air of ill-gotten excitement”.

Ten years later, in 1919, a disfigured Quinn returns to Flint after serving in Gallipoli, following a mysterious plea he receives via a psychic: “Don’t forget me. Come back and save me.” He presumes it’s a message from his sister.

He hides out in the foothills surrounding the town, where they still want to hang him. He befriends a raggedy orphan girl much in need of saving. She’s on the run from the local police chief, who also happens to be Quinn’s terrifying uncle.

This would be an unoriginal tale about an outback degenerate but for the shattered war veteran at the heart of the story, who is ultimately in search of a place in the world.

Womersley’s eloquent prose and pervasively dark subject matter lend Bereft a distinctly gothic quality, a surprising and impressive achievement given the sun-tortured terrain in which the book is set.