Over the last few years, Australian-set crime fiction has risen in respect, with authors like Jane Harper, Emma Viskic, and Candice Fox leading the charge. You will note that this surge is largely dominated by female writers and one of the earliest on the scene was Helen FitzGerald, who continues to write exceptional novels set in the region. In Ash Mountain, Helen FitzGerald’s latest, an environmental disaster serves as the backdrop while the long-held secrets of a small town are exposed.
Ash Mountain is a slim volume, clocking it at just around 200 pages; but rest assured that Helen FitzGerald packs those pages with enough angst, danger, and emotional revelations to satisfy. Following a non-traditional structure, FitzGerald constantly jumps her storytelling around in time, keeping readers oriented with time-stamps at the start of each chapter: Things like “Six Days Before the Fire,” “The Day of the Fire,” and “Thirty Years Before the Fire” help readers to know where they are located in the plotline. Everything pivots around that faithful day when Ash Mountain was ravaged my horrific wildfires.
Fran Collins thought she had escaped her hometown forever, but when her beloved father becomes extremely ill, she must travel back to Ash Mountain to care for him – with her teen daughter, Vonny, in tow. The one bright-spot in this whole endeavor is that she will once again see her older child, Dante, who chose to stay behind in Ash Mountain when Fran fled years previous.
Seeing as how this novel is crime fiction very much entrenched in the domestic suspense sub-genre, it is no surprise that events of the past are about to converge for Fran, her family, and the citizens of Ash Mountain. When Vonny, who is on a path of rapid self-discovery, is invited to the traditional Blue Light Disco, it triggers traumatic memories for Fran – secrets about her night at the dance thirty years prior and the domino-effect of reverberations that have shaped the town of Ash Mountain in the wake of that evening. These are ugly revelations that can only be purified by exposure.
Helen FitzGerald populates Ash Mountain with characters readers care about. While Fran is the featured protagonist – the catalyst for change – many other personalities are given voice in the various chapters. Together, they build a mosaic of a small town with a deep wound. From page one, readers are warned of the approaching fire – but will it destroy the community or cleanse it?
Ash Mountain is the very definition of a one-sitting read. The short chapters, changing timelines, and various plot threads will keep readers invested and reading through the night. Everything – and everyone – is at risk, but it isn’t until readers learn what Ash Mountain is hiding that the true price is fully understood. Readers taking this journey with Helen FitzGerald and her characters are sure to become fans anxious for her next novel.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.