A richly atmospheric Gothic mystery set around a ruined homestead in the Northern Territory’s Top End.
Greta’s partner Joel grew up with five brothers and a sister in a feisty household on an isolated Northern Territory property. But he doesn’t talk about those days – not the deaths of his sister and mother, nor the origin of the scars that snake around his body.
Now, many years later, he returns with Greta and their three young boys to prepare the place for sale. The boys are quick to settle in, and Joel seems preoccupied with work, but Greta has a growing sense of unease, struggling in the build-up’s oppressive heat and living in the shadow of the old, burned-out family home. She knows she’s a stranger in this uncanny place, with its eerie and alluring landscape, hostile neighbour, and a toxic dam whose clear waters belie its poison. And then there’s the mysterious girl living rough whom Greta tries to befriend.
Determined to make sense of it all, Greta is drawn into Joel’s unspoken past and confronted by her own. Before long the curlew’s haunting cry will call her to face the secrets she and Joel can no longer outrun.
With the recent rise in popularity of Australian rural crime thrillers, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find novels that stand out from the rest. Enter Karen Manton’s The Curlew’s Eye – an astonishing debut set in the wild heart of the Northern Territory.
Manton is great at immersing the reader in her story. Her melodic prose and vivid depictions of the untamed landscape lulled me in from the very first chapter. Hailing from the Northern Territory herself, Manton has drawn on her own experience when crafting this setting, and it’s clear when reading this that she loves her home. From the raging bushfires to the quiet creeks, Manton highlights not only the beauty of the Northern Territory but the wild danger lurking around every corner. She’s got a real knack for giving the gorgeous landscape a twisted sense of unease.
Speaking of unease, let’s talk characters and story. Greta and her partner Joel are both complex and nuanced characters who were fascinating to follow. Greta struggles with her newfound home and just when she thinks she’s starting to find a sense of place, something trips her up and she’s back to square one. Joel, on the other hand, is a haunted man with a dark past. Manton builds the suspense slowly but surely as we come to learn more about his background and their relationship, making for a monumental ending.
The Curlew’s Eye is a culmination of everything great about the rural crime genre. With a hauntingly wild setting and a twisted that will leave you pale in the face, Manton has cemented herself as an author to look out for, and I encourage you to give this spectacular debut a go.