You thought you'd never see another book review from me, didn't you? It was worth the wait, I promise. Published in the US by Soho Crime, Moonlight Downs won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel in its native Australia and is a fascinating, engrossing read.
Emily Tempest comes back to her home in Central Australia after 14 years away at school and roaming the world. "Home" is the Moonlight Downs community, a tribe of Warlpuju lead by Lincoln Flinders. First night back, Lincoln is murdered. Blakie Japanangka, sorcerer and enemy of Lincoln is discovered with the body and supposed to be the killer, but Emily isn't convinced and starts a discreet dig for answers.
This story really worked for me. First off I'm a sucker for Australia, and good writing in the "show, don't tell" style. This is a magnificently detailed book, and Emily an appealing and observant narrator. The small bits abound, like Emily's observation that a friend's little sister had "turned into an outback Naomi Campbell." Hyland's experience with native culture and the area he writes about comes through Emily's authentic narration, and her own difficulties figuring out where she as a young, mixed race, well-educated, bright and curious Australian fits. The difficulty of life in the desert, the roughness of the people drawn to the life and the harshness inherent are all well-depicted and three dimensional, from Emily's friend Hazel to the suspect Earl Marsh.
One of the rarer things to find these days is a fair mystery--one where clues are seeded but you as the reader can figure it out. This is a fair mystery--the solution and climax depend on Emily's knowledge and interpretation, but there's nothing that happens out of the blue to jury-rig an acceptable ending.
Great story. More, please!