If you’re an overseas reader interested in Australian crime in a uniquely Australian setting, this one is for you. The Bluffs centres around a school group hiking in the Great Western Tiers, a range of mountain bluffs in central Tasmania. The place is rich in aboriginal history and has another sinister history, that of five girls who disappeared in 1985 and were never found. Shades of Picnic At Hanging Rock, or is it simply a case of a killer who was never caught? The local kids chant a rhyme of the Hungry Man:
Up in the hills, he hides and kills,
Down in the caves, he hides and waits…
There’s a group of five girls here, too – the Fab Four led by Madison, an “influencer” who has her own YouTube channel, filming her entire life for her 700,000 followers, and the outsider Bree, best friend of a girl who hanged herself in the forest a year ago. On the second day of the trip the group gets separated, a teacher is struck down by a blow from a log, and four girls are missing. As the search goes on, one is found dead. Accusations fly around the little country town, vigilantes seize on a victim, and Madison’s YouTube channel is right there at the centre of it all. She appoints herself advocate for her missing friends – but what does Madison know that she isn’t telling?
The young teacher Eliza Ellis has her secrets too, as do the two male teachers who were on the trip. Trying to sort out truth from lie, supernatural forces from human ones, is Con Badenhorst, the detective assigned to the case. Con is fighting the demons of a serial-killer case that also involved young girls, and still blames himself for missing vital clues. And he’s under constant pressure from the press coverage of this high-interest story.
Kyle Perry has an extensive background as a youth worker, in schools, youth shelters and drug rehab, and has experienced the dangers and secrets of Tasmanian mountains. He’s done a great job of tying his personal experience to the play of his imagination. Highly recommended.