Review ‘Evermore’ by Joanna Baker Book Three

Book Three

“My memories get mixed up with dreams” says Chess Febey, and they are causing emotional turmoil which is affecting her everyday life. When Chess was five her mother, Lena Febey, died in unspoken circumstances and Chess is unsure whether or not she was there at the time. Was it a tragic accident? Could she have caused it? Was her father involved?  There’s nothing on the internet and nobody will talk to her about what happened. Least of all her ineffective father, an uncommunicative alcoholic who hides family items and mementoes from Chess’ childhood, including a hand-drawn map of her mother’s titled “Evermore”. Where is this place?

There are a lot of veiled warnings and secrecy, and Chess doesn’t know where to start or what to believe in her search for an honest answer. Until she finally gets a lead. With her best friend and long-suffering companion Matt Tingle they head to the pretty alpine town of Bright in the high country of north-east Victoria; a place so close yet strangely Chess has never visited.

“The road to Mount Beauty started out like all the other roads around Bright, in story-book countryside, with reedy dams, cows, pretty trees and fields of lush grass. But soon we were climbing. The road became steep and winding. On the right there was a wall of rock with ferns and moss and roots, and on the left there was the kind of steep drop that had you imagining what would happen if you went over the edge and wondering if any of the trees would stop you.”

Page 162 ‘Evermore’ by Joanna Baker

Highly focussed, Chess and Matt pick up likely threads and hope to decipher how, and possibly why, Chess’ mother died. She soon finds out that nobody in town will tell them any details of what happened. If they will talk at all. Perhaps her mother Lena, a renowned flirt, was murdered and Chess was implicated as a child? From blank faces to townspeople warning her off, one woman forcibly showed Chess that she wanted to be left alone.

Obscure clues from Chess’ nightmarish dreams grow stronger and float to the surface night after night. She writes them down in the morning and reads them back to Matt. He’s a good foil for her; solid, sensible, the one who picks up on nuances and other people’s behaviour whereas Chess ploughs straight ahead, oblivious to the consequences which give rise to some bad situations.

Their investigations come across May Tran of Out and About Adventure Holidays. May becomes a willing participant in their quest, cycling through scenic countryside, often on cold rainy days. I would have liked more Aussie phrasing but when it comes to May, Matt’s humour and inner monologues are great value.

Chess and Matt become domestic hands at Grindel’s budget tourist hostel which they use as a base during their research, helped by cook Calvin and friend Paz who offers dream interpretations. Personally I am not too sure about the psychology behind the dream clues but they certainly are frequent and disturbing.

Chess and Matt encounter further stubbornness from the local residents, documents are hidden or erased, any contact is terse – especially in the library. And who is following them in the old red Mercedes? One big clue does emerge, although it throws Chess into further torment as to where her mother had actually died. The explosive final chapters reveal all and I was shocked at the moral judgement of everyone Chess encountered in her frantic search for the truth.

I loved the rural landscapes because I have family who lived in the area and I know the small hamlets of Yackandandah and Porepunkah; Wandiligong gets a mention for their tiny library dated 1878 and the new Bright library which is at least 150 years old.

Suitable for YA and adult readers “Evermore” is the third book in the series (below) and I think each book could stand alone although I enjoyed the ongoing progression. Character development is strong and the pacing kept me hooked right to the end. Throughout the story are compelling themes of friendship, determination and the overpowering desire to find out the truth behind an emotional family secret.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward  

My thanks to author Joanna Baker for a copy of “Evermore”.

Website https://joannabakerauthor.com/

Bookstore https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/evermore-joanna-baker/1141941498

Tourism https://www.visitbright.com.au/

If you or anyone you know needs help: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Review ‘Devastation Road’ by Joanna Baker Book One

Joanna Baker Devastation Road Bookcover 2019

Author Joanna Baker knows how to start her books with a gripping first chapter.  Matt Tingle had fallen asleep in front of Mr Roland’s computer in the office of Craft Gallery and Tea Shoppe, where supposedly he was doing his history assignment, when a noise wakes him . . .

. . . things get very dangerous very quickly.

Next day, in the small rural gold-mining town of Yackandandah, our protagonist Matt is sitting in the Yackandandah Bakery trying to steady his jangling nerves.  He has a headache from inhaling toxic fumes during his misadventures the night before.  In walks his friend Chess who says ‘Golly Matty.  You look awful’.  Chess’ dialogue is not always contemporary and it’s tricky to pinpoint an exact decade but it gives the story an enduring feel.

Yackandandah Bakery Victoria
Yackandandah Bakery

Then to make matters worse for sickly Matt, pretty Tara Roland walks into the bakery, a vision of shiny-haired loveliness.  Tara is accompanied by her cousin Wando who gets a bit twitchy with the bakery assistant Debbie Wilson over her necklace and the drama escalates from there.

Egyptology comes into play in the form of an amber necklace named The Eye of Ra

At this stage, Matt and Chess are two teenagers who are unknowingly about to become amateur detectives and embark on solving two local mysteries.  One is a cold case, a baffling hit-and-run road accident which turns Chess into the queen of concentration and Matt the emperor of emotions; they bounce ideas off each other . . .

. . . and the second mystery?

This one is more personal.  Going for a walk, Matt and Chess find the drowned body of someone they knew well.  After the initial shock, they begin to investigate, slowly unravelling the mystery to discover a horrible crime.

In both cases, our intrepid pair find anomalies in the witness stories, items gone missing, half-remembered half-overheard conversations and scraps of notes.  They talk to a grieving fiancé and parents, chat to the mechanic at Yackandandah Motor Garage, join an apprehensive gathering at the Yackandandah Christmas Picnic, and Matt witnesses a hair-raising moment with Wando at Burrie Falls, the local swimming hole.

Yackandandah Creek Victoria
Yackandandah Creek

Their trial and error investigations are beautifully woven through the story with real clues and false leads.

At one stage Matt gets badly pummelled by the deceased’s brother Craig for inferring.  Matt is limping around putting on a brave face when Chess arrives.  ‘You get too carried away by things…you’re too theatrical’ she says, before getting embroiled in her own thoughts and hazardous hypotheses.  I had difficulty in picturing them at first; Matt seems solid enough but Chess has family problems, making her seem wise beyond her years.

Joanna Baker Yackandandah Motor Garage
Yackandandah Motor Garage

The settings for this novel do exist, for example the Yackandandah motor garage, bakery, the creek and Falls.  I think it’s clever how Devastation Road was named but I am not sure it exists with that name.  Here’s the link if you are interested in reading more about north-east Victoria https://www.exploreyackandandah.com.au/

This is the first book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth Trilogy.  I did a bit of swiping back-and-forth to see if I had missed anything vital.  Concentration is needed!  There is more to this story than meets the eye.  The ending is a chilling and substantial psychological twist I bet you won’t see coming.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward    


AUTHOR PROFILE

Joanna Baker Australian Author 2019

Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer.  Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.

Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.

Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria.  She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.

Her current mysteries are The Slipping Place, Devastation Road and The Elsinore Vanish with Evermore coming soon.  And I would like to thank Joanna Baker for my review copy. GBW.