The Mystery Woman
Publisher: 2nd September 2020 by HarperCollins AU
Pages: 420 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, mystery, historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups
In a small town, everyone is watching ... Secrets, scandal and betrayal in 1950s small town Australia: the stunning new novel from bestseller Belinda Alexandra She had thought Shipwreck Bay was simply a remote town where people were bored senseless with their little lives. Now she saw its virtuous facade hid something darker, more sinister.
Rebecca Wood takes the role as postmistress in a sleepy seaside town, desperate for anonymity after a scandal in Sydney. But she is confronted almost at once by a disturbing discovery - her predecessor committed suicide.
To add to her worries, her hopes for a quiet life are soon threatened by the attentions of the dashing local doctor, the unsettling presence of a violent whaling captain and a corrupt shire secretary, as well as the watchful eyes of the town's gossips. Yet in spite of herself she is drawn to the enigmatic resident of the house on the clifftop, rumoured to have been a Nazi spy.
Against the backdrop of the turbulent sea, Rebecca is soon caught up in the dangerous mysteries that lie behind Shipwreck Bay's respectable net curtains.
In her latest offering, Belinda has stepped away from her sweeping sagas of the past and moved in a new direction. I like it! A definite change in pace and approach, The Mystery Woman had me glued to the pages to the very end. Belinda describes it as a ‘Modern Australian Gothic Romance’ and I have to agree. This had all the necessary elements to make for an atmospheric and suspenseful read.
‘She was living two parallel lives - one as a postmistress gradually finding her place in the town, and the other as a hunted animal that was about to be devoured by the beast of the press.’
This time Belinda takes us to coastal rural Australia of the 1950s. She dives deep into the themes of the social etiquette of the day with a strong female lead trapped in small town life. Can the outcast become the heroine? Viewed with our 21st century eyes, we cannot help but cringe at the domestic expectations clashing against the need for female voices to be heard. Can Rebecca transform herself and start anew or will she forever be trapped in thinking her happiness lies in curtailing her intelligence and aspirations. And at what cost? With strong themes of domestic violence, Belinda takes her readers on an unforgettable journey. With shades of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 classic Gothic novel, ‘Rebecca’, this 1950’s Rebecca has much to contend with as double standards are running rampant.
‘It was ironic that she should have been assigned to this coastal town when there were dozens of inland centres equally in need of her services. Perhaps it was fate. Perhaps a divine reminder of mistakes made that could never be forgiven.’
Added to this is a range of secondary characters who, likewise, have their own secrets and mysteries. In some ways, it would appear the whole town has something to hide behind their community/domestic blissful facade. From political corruption, to town gossip, to psychological manipulation, the cast of characters is rich and engaging. You may get a solid idea of how this will all play out, but does this take away from the story? Not in the least, in fact, it will have you scrambling as if watching an old black and white thriller movie with your hand drawn to your face and viewing only through the slight crack in your fingers.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Belinda’s outstanding incorporation of the whole whale hunting aspect of the story. This is the 1950s when whaling was an important primary industry and cruelty and conservation were yet to be heard, let alone considered above the economic considerations of the day. Belinda seamlessly gives this added dimension to a story already rolling in rich societal commentary.
‘She found herself inches away from the barnacled chin and wide mouth of the creature. It turned slightly, and she and the whale looked into each other’s eyes. It stirred in her a sense of the ancient and the mysterious. Then the whale propelled itself higher. For a brief moment her heart stopped as she feared that the whale was about to upend the boat. But it rolled on its side, missing the boat and smacking the surface of the water with its flipper. Rebecca watched it glide down deeper into the blue, awestruck by its majesty.’
I was completely engaged and totally in love with the new direction Belinda’s writing took. There is so much to consider and reflect upon and as the suspense builds and the mystery unfolds. You too will be swept away to Shipwreck Bay, connecting, supporting and cheering for Rebecca as she seeks to make a stand.
‘She disappeared somewhere inside herself, wondering what it might have been like to be a normal woman. Not a woman with a past, not a woman who had made terrible decisions, not a woman whose passions were about to destroy her.’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.