welcome to the latest twist in crime fiction

Crime fiction as a genre has always responded to the big issues of the day, refracted through cleverly crafted stories about the kinds of trouble in which people find themselves in difficult times. But there’s been a shift of late.

While the private eyes and the police detectives are still out there on the urban streets, front and center now are the inadvertent investigators, the ordinary people from all walks of life who find themselves dealing with a crime that usually begins at home. Even more interesting is the fact that these days, home is more likely to be somewhere on the margins.

While Ned Kelly Award-winning author Garry Disher has written incisively on the characteristics of “rural noir” in Australia, a term he prefers to “outback noir”, two new crime novels – by Australian Aoife Clifford, and New Zealand-based writer Charity Norman – offer a twist on the now familiar trope of the rural, and indeed regional, crime novel. Both feature a daughter coming home to deal with a parent suffering from dementia while featuring a crime in the past that inevitably resurfaces with the prodigal’s return.

The main character in Charity Norman’s Remember Me belongs to “the sandwich generation”.Credit:vivienne haldane

In remember me, book-illustrator Emily Kirkland is summoned home from London by a Maori neighbour, Raewyn, who lives in the adjacent property at the foot of the Ruahine Mountains on New Zealand’s north island. As Emily ruefully informs the reader, she belongs to “the sandwich generation”, caught between parents and children and never quite coping with either.

Raewyn’s worried that Emily’s father, Felix, the former revered local doctor, is struggling. Although Felix appears still “upright, tidy, self-contained”, Emily soon discovers that in her father’s intensely private battle with his failing memory of him, Alzheimer’s has the upper hand.

As Emily patiently deals with her father’s decline, she begins to discover how little she really knew him. This leads to the suspicion that he, and perhaps her brother de ella as well, may have been involved in the disappearance of Raewyn’s daughter Leah 25 years earlier.

When We Fall author Aoife Clifford is a keen observer of people and place.

When We Fall author Aoife Clifford is a keen observer of people and place.Credit:Nicholas Purcell

remember me begins with a flashback as Leah heads into the local service station to buy chocolate from the young Emily before heading off into the rain-soaked wilderness never to be seen again. The fact that Leah was a brilliant young academic on a quest to discover a rare carnivorous snail only compounds the possible intrigue.

While Leah’s disappearance kick-starts the narrative, it is the beautifully observed account of how Emily and her father deal with the incremental cruelty of dementia that makes remember me such a moving and memorable read.

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