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In the summer of 1989, a local teen goes missing from the idyllic Australian suburb of Camp Hill. As rumours of Satanic rituals swirl, schoolteacher Tom Witter becomes convinced he holds the key to the disappearance. When the police won't listen, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of the missing girl's father and a local neighbourhood watch group.
But as dark secrets are revealed and consequences to past actions are faced, Tom learns that the only way out of the darkness is to walk deeper into it. Wild Place peels back the layers of suburbia, exposing what's hidden underneath - guilt, desperation, violence - and attempts to answer the question: why do good people do bad things?
by Ben Hunter
Thriller lovers, rejoice! Christian White, author of The Nowhere Child and The Wife and the Widow is back and his latest work, Wild Place is going to rock your socks off. Set over the Christmas holidays of 1989 against the oversized bushland-lined homes beyond Frankston, the new novel deftly charts the troubling desperation that bubbles under the surface of suburban life and asks the question: Why do good people do bad things?
The action of this story is catalysed by the disappearance of teenager Tracie Reed, whose parents are in the throes of a divorce. Despite her odd activity before her disappearance, including complaints of a stalker, cops dismiss the case as a runaway, with the investigating officer even nicking off on holidays and leaving the mystery wide open to speculation. The cliche of the missing girl isn't what excites the reader here, it's the crazy way in which her town reacts.
Enter the unlikely hero of Wild Place: Tom Whitter, a high school English teacher with a mild case of Tourette Syndrome, a Mitsubishi Sigma and two misbehaved sons of his own. Tom has little to do with the missing girl other than that she was once his student and that the open bushland that backs off his property, from which the novel takes its name, also backs off hers. Following a meeting of his sweetly farcical neighbourhood watch group, Tom starts nosing into the world of the missing girl.
Being suburbia at the end of the '80s, Tom and the neighbourhood watch can't help but turn their attention to local bad influence Sean, whose pentagram tattoo and Mötley Crüe fandom make him an easy target amid the sweeping Satanic Panic of the time. Sean is an interesting character however, and definitely not one without something to hide. In fact you could say that about almost everyone you encounter in this book.
Like Christian White's earlier novels, Wild Place is a truly addictive thriller that stands head and shoulders above other books of its class. White is a master of ebbing out the perfect level of detail to both immerse the reader and light up the imagination. This book is like a time capsule of late '80s Aussie suburbia that surveys the destructive nature of masculinity, grief and secrecy through its gorgeously crafted characters. I was in no way ready for all the dark (and wild!) places they carry you.