‘He didn’t have to be normal, the boy realised. He just had to pretend.’
We open with Cindy Corban dropping her son, Nicholas, off at school before heading back into the workforce for the first time since he was born. It’s a Melbourne winter, and she’s missing the warmth of the Gold Coast in Queensland, where she’s from. Reading this and hating the winter chill myself, I’m already hooked.
Cindy’s husband, Detective Emmett Corban is starting to regret his promotion to head of the Missing Persons Unit, as the routine reports pile up on his desk. So when Natale Gibson goes missing, he’s convinced this is the big case he’s been waiting for – the woman’s husband and parents insist the devoted mother would never abandon her children, and her personal accounts remain untouched.
But things aren’t all they seem. The close-knit Italian family is keeping secrets – none bigger than the one Natale has been hiding.
Just as the net seems to be tightening, the investigation is turned on its head. The body of a woman is found… then another. What had seemed like a standard missing person’s case has turned into a frightening hunt for a serial killer, and time is running out.
But to really understand these shocking crimes, Emmett and his team will need to delve back through decades of neglect – back to a squalid inner-city flat, where a young boy is left huddling over his mother’s body…
This is Katherine Firkin’s debut novel, but her experience as a journalist shines through in both the polished writing, and her history covering criminal cases. There’s a lot of hype around Sticks and Stones – I’ve lost count of the people who have mentioned it to me. So why is it so popular? There are some great crime writers out there. Does this live up to the hype?
It does, and more. Many great crime writers start solidly and build their career. Katherine Firkin is unusual in that she has hit the genre out of the ballpark in her debut novel. This is impressive and very polished. And very disturbing.
Multiple perspectives are expertly wound together, towards an unpredictable end – at least I didn’t predict it, and I read a lot of crime – including flashbacks to the killer as a child. Here the author weaves in themes around child neglect, drug addiction, failures of the system and the foster system.
I liked Emmett and his wife Cindy – both characters are compelling and I hope to see more of them in future books. I found it difficult to put Sticks and Stones down and read it in two sittings. It’s a gripping read, and definitely lives up to the hype.