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“We try to protect the people we love from certain truths…but I’m not sure that’s always right, or fair.  If we don’t talk about the monsters in this world, we won’t be ready for them when they jump out from under the bed.” – John Keddie.

cover wife widowWhen Kate Keddie and her daughter Mia go to the Melbourne International Airport to surprise her husband John, a physician who is returning from London where he was at a conference, she is shocked when he does not show up.  When she calls the medical facility where he works to see if he might have changed planes, she learns for the first time that he has not worked there for three months.  Nor has he been in London for the past two weeks.  Though she has talked with him on Skype several times during the two weeks he has been away, he is now, according to all indication, a “missing person.”   It is not until the Melbourne Police ask Kate, during their initial questioning, if she and John have a holiday house, that she mentions that they do have one on tiny Belport Island, off the Bellarine Peninsula, south of Melbourne, a family place given to them by John’s parents as a wedding present.  John, however, has never liked the island, and Kate is sure that he would never go there by choice.  More important is the fact that John, according to his employer, had been in “spiritual distress” for several months before he left his job, and this was exacerbated by the death of an elderly patient with whom he had developed a close relationship.


Ringtail Possum, which has several references here.

In a completely separate narrative, which alternates chapters with this one, Abby Gilpin, wife of Ray – and the “Wife” of the title – begins her narrative where she lives – on Belport Island.  Abby works during the winter at a grocery store, and does taxidermy as a hobby when she finds time, and she is anxious to get started preserving the ring-tailed possum currently residing in her refrigerator.  Her husband does maintenance and runs a care-taking business for summer residents during the off-season, and their son Eddie, at fifteen, “is passing awkwardly through the Ichabod Crane phase of puberty.”  Not much happens on Belport, but Ray is alarmed that his sixteen-year-old daughter has overheard him weeping that morning, an event so upsetting that she has mentioned it to her mother. Later when Abby goes to the waterfront, she finds five police cars in the car park.  These officials demand that she leave, refusing to give her any information as the ferry from the mainland pulls up to the dock.

A resident docking his 1990 Riva Aquarama boat discovers the submerged car holding the body of John Keddie.

A resident docking his 1990 Riva Aquarama boat discovers the submerged car holding the body of John Keddie.

Australian author Christian White uses these two separate narratives to create a murder mystery which goes way beyond the usual thin characters forced to deal with bizarre and unexpected  experiences.  Here he focuses instead on creating real people who find themselves suddenly dealing with events for which they have never prepared, many of which are now crises which have suddenly evolved from experiences buried deep in their past. The two narratives appear in alternating chapters but have few connections until late in the novel,  as “The Wife” and “The Widow” share their lives with the reader but do not know each other and have virtually no contact.  It is not until the ferry arrives with Kate Keddie and her father-in-law, Fisher Keddie, about a third of the way into the novel, that the mystery takes off.  Arriving at the Belport Island summer house, they discover that there is food in the microwave, a shopping bag on the counter, and a note to himself written by John Keddie.  Fresh sheets on a bed, items in the bar fridge, and a room service menu prove to Kate and Fisher that John has, in fact, been at the island during his “missing” weeks.  Unfortunately, however, a body is soon found inside a car that has been located in deep water off the harbor docks, and, not surprisingly, the body inside is John’s.  He has been murdered.


Belport Island is described as off the coast of the Bellarine Peninsula, center-left. Melbourne is to the north.

Still maintaining the separate narratives, White very effectively raises the suspense, adding numerous threads which dramatically increase the complications – and the involvement of the reader as sleuth.  The private adult life of John Keddie – and his early life as a child on the island – become significant, as does his recent medical connection to a former resident of the island.  Flashbacks to a murder on the island twenty-three years ago, add complications from the time John and the other adults were children and explain some of the Belport relationships in new ways as they pertain to that early murder.  Flash-forwards give updates on the effects of some apparent decisions and resolutions made in the present, just as flashbacks reflect similar decisions in the past.  The opening quotation indicates that the two murders – one in the past and one in the present- share elements in common, especially in the inherent desire of adults to protect people they love by hiding “certain truths.”

Author Christian White.

Author Christian White.

Filled with drama and excitement, author Christian White creates a mystery that is, nevertheless, unpretentious, written as if these are real events involving real people with real problems trying to deal with them the best way they know how.  His prose is clear and precise, and his use of detail is totally controlled, with information released as needed, rather than all at once in a grand presentation or, eventually, a grand finale.  The moral and psychological issues pertaining to the murders and their long-term effects make the reader imagine what s/he might have done under similar circumstances, raising questions about whether there are any circumstances at all under which terrible crimes might ever be excused in order to give the guilty person a chance at a real life.  Are some people’s lives worth more than others?  Ultimately, White’s novel illustrates a series of conundrums about whether the actions taken by the main characters here were justified – a way of trying to control the “monsters of the world,” even though these monsters will all, eventually, “jump out from under the bed.”

The tiny Flame Robin was visible from Abby's kitchen, a bird that is verging on being endangered.

Tiny Flame Robins were visible from Abby’s kitchen, a bird that is verging on being endangered.

Photos.  The Ringtail Possum appears on https://www.australiangeographic.com.au

The Riva Aquarama speedboat (1990) is from https://au.boats.com

The map of the Bellarine Peninsula, south of Melbourne may be found on https://www.bcl.com.au

The author’s photo is on https://www.geelongadvertiser.com.au

The tiny Flame Robin, visible from Abby’s kitchen, is a bird verging on being endangered.  https://ebird.org

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Australia, Mystery, Thriller, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Christian White
Published by: Minotaur Books
Date Published: 01/21/2020
ISBN: 978-1250194374
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

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