Maryrose Cuskelly’s debut fiction release, The Cane, is a slow-burn mystery filled with small-town politics, suspicion, and supposition. The novel is set in a tiny town in the North Queensland sugar cane area and revolves around the disappearance of a sixteen-year-old girl named Janet, who has been missing for a number of weeks. With no clues to follow, Janet’s mother embarks on a desperate search, leaving the local community of Quala in a state of shock. But life must go on for this thriving sugar cane community, especially as the all-important harvest date approaches.
As the town surges forward with their traditional plans, fear ripples through the younger residents of Quala. A tragic history also haunts the region, which leaves a bitter stain on the township. As the burning of the sugarcane proceeds, more secrets of this divided town will be revealed, leaving a distinct mark on the people of Quala.
Maryrose Cuskelly makes a grand entrance into the burgeoning Australian crime fiction scene with her first novel in the genre, The Cane. With a glowing front cover quote from fellow Australian crime writer Mark Brandi, The Cane immediately fired up my interest. Maryrose Cuskelly’s debut fiction release turned out to be a wonderful example of a slow-burn style Aussie crime tale.
One of the standout aspects of The Cane is the setting of the sugar cane fields in Far North Queensland. The landscape drips with atmosphere, tension, fear, heat, and sweat, making the setting a character in its own right. Cuskelly’s generous descriptions of this unique stage provide the reader with a fascinating insight into the sugar cane farming process and its impact on the whole local community.
The main mystery running through the story, which relates to the disappearance of a sixteen-year-old girl, is fascinating to follow. The main storyline crux of The Cane is based largely on the author’s understanding of a number of well-known child education cases and murders in the 1970s, and Cuskelly has infused this narrative with some fascinating real-life elements. This adds to the high sense of authenticity and credibility in terms of the crime element of The Cane.
The cast of characters are rendered well, thanks to the alternating form of narration, which builds a bigger overall picture of the crime mystery at hand. Cuskelly draws in lots of niggling small-town issues of division, gossip, suspicion, innuendo, mistrust, and rising tension, which make the reader feel like they are a part of the town’s fabric.
Overall, The Cane is a dusky, riveting, and suggestive novel that offers an eerie portrayal of an environment under great duress. It is a novel to stew over, and the slow-burn style crime mystery will keep readers engaged until the very end. Cuskelly’s writing is evocative, skittish, and hazy, leaving readers in suspense until the final pages. The Cane is a disquieting tale from a new voice in Australian noir.
In conclusion, The Cane is an impressive debut novel from Maryrose Cuskelly. The author’s experience as a true crime writer shines through in her ability to create a suspenseful and authentic crime narrative. The setting of the sugar cane fields provides an atmospheric backdrop, while the cast of characters adds depth and nuance to the story. Fans of Australian crime fiction will definitely want to add this one to their reading list.