Nicole Melanson ~
Poppy Gee’s sophomore novel, Vanishing Falls, is a mystery about the disappearance of wealthy socialite Celia Lily. Set in the Tasmanian rainforest, this book reads like an old-school who-done-it, with a cast of suspicious characters in an isolated location.
Told primarily from three different viewpoints, Vanishing Falls alternates between Celia’s husband Jack, poultry farmer Cliff, and townswoman Joelle, who is the only appealing character in the book. The residents of Vanishing Falls have a grubbiness about them that manifests in shame, envy, and resentment, much of which is uncomfortable to read but feels authentic. These are people beaten down by the harsh realities of social inequality, financial instability, and lack of opportunity. (I will say I would have liked to see either more or less of the ten children involved, but everyone else is fleshed out in explicit detail.)
Vanishing Falls is a wonderfully atmospheric read, with the landscape featuring as a sort of secondary character. I could picture even minor scenes vividly. I also found that the description of each house functioned like wardrobing for the character who lived inside it. I have no idea if the author has any background in visual arts, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Either way, the rich imagery makes the perfect backdrop for a story that involves, amongst other things, art dealership.
There’s a lot of friction in this novel between the elite and the commonplace. I liked how Jack, in particular, couldn’t stay away from the world he professed to abhor, while Cliff longed for everything he allegedly despised. There are also some dodgy events in the town’s past, with Aboriginal history suggesting there’s a lot more to the story than just rich vs. poor.
All up, Vanishing Falls is a bit of a slow burn to start, but once the novel finds its feet, it’s an interesting tale with a setting and characters seldom seen before. I’d recommend it to readers looking for a classic mystery with a modern twist.
— Nicole Melanson