I rarely get a chance to review work from people that aren’t based in either the UK or US, so it was nice to be able to get a submission from Australia, and it’s a very grounded Australian story, based in New South Wales. What also attracted me to this book was that it was a mystery, but it was very real, often with thrillers and mysteries you suspend disbelief because the story and/or the characters are strong, but usually the stakes are so high that often it can seem quite ridiculous but this story manages to provide a strong and engaging story while still being very realistic.
When it comes to music I like something with a lot of energy but with stories I’m happy for them to have a slow burn, as long as there’s a satisfactory conclusion, and I feel that Return to Tamarlin has that. It’s a well paced narrative that is very focused on people and the place that it’s set in, and not a lot of stories manage that second part well, maybe with stories set in New York or London they make the effort to show the energy of a big city and obviously with small towns they make the effort to emphasise the sleepy quality of it, but with Return to Tamarlin it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve read where the place itself felt organic and honest.
I think the social aspect of the story is also among the strongest elements of the story, as I said above it all blends into this honest and true impression of a community, particularly how secrets and judgemental eyes can scare someone away or force someone to leave. To an extent every community becomes insular but it’s only in small towns that it really has an influence, because everyone and their dog knows about that thing you did, and has appropriately factored that into their impression of you. Just very quickly though before I get back to the review, I don’t want to disparage small town life, I am from a small town, it’s as good as it is bad, it all depends on the people, the period in time and to be honest, what exactly it was you did, and those factors I feel also play into the central threads of the story we have here as well.
Another thing I want to applaud is the characterisation, especially of the two main characters, the sisters, Nancy and Mary, they aren’t perfect, but they are real and I think that reality makes the story all the more engaging. Being honest the characterisation feels like the result of someone who has spent a lot of time observing how people really act, rather than just how they think people act or worse mirroring how people act on TV. I like Steele’s characters because they seem like people rather than just extensions of the story.
Another strong element of this story is the family structure, the estrangement and the inciting incident bringing the sisters back together. So many people lose touch with their family and this can sadly be the tone of much of our lives, how for good or bad we lose touch with people and how much worse when its family, it reminds you to hold on to what you’ve got because it could all be taken away, and you might not be lucky enough to have a 30 year old mystery to bring you back together.
I’ve left a lot out because I don’t want to spoil the story and frankly because I feel you need to experience this book yourself but to be honest everything I’ve left out has been good, so with that in mind Return to Tamarlin by K.M Steele, more than earns a 5/5. Make sure and get a copy yourself from Amazon, and also don’t miss my interview with the author which you can check out here.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/