Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city anyway.
She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.
As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads, and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…
Helen Fitzgerald is no stranger to writing thrillers, even having one of her books, The Cry, adapted into an award-winning TV series in 2018. It’s no surprise that her latest novel, Ash Mountain, is an outstanding take on small-town life and the devastating bushfires that affect so many Australian towns.
As we follow Fran, the novel takes place over three timelines, giving the town of Ash Mountain a rich history, making every corner and store feel real and fleshed out. The way Fitzgerald describes the town is full of passion and heart, and It’s clear that her rural upbringing is a big inspiration. The town itself is home to just over 800 residents, which gives the place an almost claustrophobic feel, only adding to the suspenseful atmosphere of the novel.
Fran herself is a character that I think many people can resonate with to some degree. Trying her best to survive in a place she doesn’t think she belongs; she’s determined to take care of her family while discovering herself and re-living her past. What makes her a truly memorable character is the fact that she still manages to find the humour in it all. There were a few moments I caught myself laughing out loud. One minute it’ll pull on your heartstrings and maybe even bring you to the verge of tears, and the next you’ll be laughing at Fran’s dark and witty humour.
Simultaneously a warm, darkly funny portrait of small-town life – and a woman and a land in crisis – and a shocking and truly distressing account of a catastrophic event that changes things forever, Ash Mountain is a heart-breaking slice of domestic noir, and a disturbing disaster thriller that you will never forget.