BOOK GIVEAWAY: Read on for a chance to win a signed copy of Red Dust. The contest ends midnight on Wednesday, December 23 AEST.
Fleur McDonald’s debut novel evokes the rugged beauty of the Australian outback through the eyes of a strong protagonist, but this might not be enough for genre readers.
If there’s one type of contemporary romance I’d like to see more of, it’s the good old outback romance. I don’t mean generic romances set in the outback where the hero is a land baron with money to spare. I mean romances set in the harsh landscape of rural Australia, where people struggle against the vagaries of nature, and where I can feel the hot dust on my tongue as I read the story.
If there’s one thing Red Dust does well, it’s capturing the beauty and roughness of outback Australia.
When Gemma Sinclair’s husband dies in a plane crash, she takes on the task of managing Billbinya, their 100,000-hectare sheep station. Although she’s managing to stay afloat, a series of suspicious events lead Gemma to the realisation that something may be amiss at Billbinya. It seems her late husband may have been involved in something dodgy which also implicates Gemma. As an investigation into Billbinya comes to a head, Gemma must uncover the truth behind her husband’s dying words and figure out who may be setting her up to take the fall.
Fleur McDonald has spent most of her life on a farm, and she captures the spirit of the outback vividly, providing an intimate account of life on an outback station. I was fascinated by the sheep shearing process and how station owners keep track of their stock over vast distances.
Lisa, the young blonde rousie who the shearers had been teasing, swooped down on the fleece that had been left on the floor. She jiggled the wool around on the board until she found the legs, scooped it up in her arms and ran to the wool table. She flicked her wrists and the fleece flew up into the air, landing perfectly flat on the wool table, where Jackie skirted it quickly and decided which line it belonged in. The little pieces of wool that didn’t stay attached to the fleece floated onto the floor like soft snowflakes. Paula scraped her paddle across the floor, sweeping up all the excess wool.
I liked the rough camaraderie between workers, and the pragmatism displayed by the main characters. When Gemma needs extra help, she can’t afford to wait for someone she’s totally comfortable with—the reality is, she has to hire the best qualified person available. Likewise, when sheep shearing begins, Gemma thinks that some of the individuals look ‘unsavoury’, but it can’t be helped because it’s difficult to find people willing to do the work. This setting creates the ideal backdrop for the suspense plot.
And yet the suspense elements didn’t always work for me. The premise is interesting, it’s set up well in the beginning, and the procedural aspects seemed plausible. I love to read about how crime is investigated in the outback, and it’s particularly interesting in Red Dust because Billbinya is so huge—no CSI-esque toenails-in-the-bathroom-rugclues here! Despite this, McDonald struggles to sustain the mystery throughout the book. There are too many hints along the way that a reader with some familiarity with crime fiction can easily decipher.
The romance, on the other hand, is underdeveloped. Although I felt the sparks between Gemma and her love interest, McDonald doesn’t really show how their feelings progress, and how they come to be significant in each other’s lives. To be fair, the book is marketed as popular fiction, so perhaps my expectations around the love story was higher than it should’ve been.
Still, I think the weaknesses in the crime and romance plots stem from the same issues. They suffer from a lack of subtlety, and I felt that the author could’ve omitted some of the shorter scenes to better sustain the tension in both the mystery and the romance. The points of view also could’ve been managed better, especially when so much of the story is told from Gemma’s perspective. The transitions between scenes and characters were jarring at times.
Yay or nay?
Although there may not be enough romance or mystery to sustain genre readers, I’d recommend Red Dust for its faithfulness to the outback setting, seen through the eyes of a strong, pragmatic protagonist. I’m a city girl through and through, but I felt the heat and the grit and the roughness and, yes, the romance of the land as I read this book, and I’m looking forward to seeing how McDonald’s style develops in future books.
A review copy of Red Dust was generously provided by the author. The book was first published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin. It will be republished in B format in March 2010. It’s also available as an ebook.
Fleur McDonald’s second book, Blue Skies, is due for release in April 2010.
RED DUST GIVEAWAY
For a chance to win a SIGNED copy of Red Dust, in 25 words or less tell us what you love about about celebrating an Aussie Christmas OR what you find romantic about the Aussie outback.
Some rules: You must post your answer as a comment to this post. Multiple entries are fine. By entering, you give us permission to quote your entry in future blog posts and articles. Overseas readers are welcome to join in. The giveaway ends midnight on Wednesday, December 23 AEDT. Wandergurl, Decadence and I will pick our favourite answer. We’ll announce the winner the following week, and they’ll have a week to send me their delivery address before the prize is forfeit.
Where you can buy this book
AUSTRALIA: Abbeys | Allen & Unwin | Australian Online Bookshop | Booktopia | Borders | Dymocks | Fishpond | Gleebooks | Nile | QBD | Readings | More
EBOOKS: Dymocks | eBooks.com
WORLDWIDE: The Book Depository