Book Review: The Legacy of Old Gran Parks
Set in Cann River in Australia’s rugged southern wilderness, The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is a tale of a remote town haunted by a legacy, a legacy with ominous consequences.
It’s a warm evening in the autumn of 1983 when Miriam Forster rolls into town in her broken down car. Frankie the deer hunter, is up in the forested hinterland with her gun. Old Pearl the fisherwoman sits on her front deck down by the lagoon with her whisky and her dog. And Emily, the English backpacker, scrubs out the pie-encrusted kitchen at the roadhouse.
All is not well. There’s a hoon doing donuts at the crossroads and screaming down the fire trails in the woods; a suspicious-looking city-slicker with two small children, squatting in Fred’s shack down by the lake; a beanie-headed gaunt guy convalescing at the lighthouse; and an acne festooned creature in the hotel room next to Miriam, thrashing about in the night.
Gran Parks is stirring. Who will survive? Who will get away? Who will stay?
I’ve been a fan of Isobel Blackthorn’s writing for a few years now. If you’d like a good place to start with her work, I recommend A Perfect Square and The Drago Tree, neither of which has the edgy horror turn that The Legacy of Old Gran Parks has (though A Perfect Square perhaps hints at the dark fiction to come).
In her latest release (or latest bar one, Cabin Sessions is out now as well), Isobel draws the reader in to the layer buried underneath the laidback country town veneer to be found once you leave behind city grime and suburban banalities. In Isobel’s version of Cann River (a very real town in Australia’s rugged southern wilderness) where the Monaro and Princes Highways meet and people more often pass through on their way to elsewhere rather than stay, people have learned to serve a certain kind of justice that is swift and final.
As is usual when I pick up one of Isobel’s novels, it takes me a chapter or two to get into the right mindset for the story she so carefully lays out; the mindset that connects in an almost visceral way to characters who hide their complexity beneath a thin surface of expected country-style civility (kind of like the town Isobel locates them in).
Also as usual, by the third chapter I’m completely hooked and more importantly, involved in the lives of each of Isobel’s somewhat quirky characters. There’s Miriam, a social worker from the city who is forced into a week’s stay in the remote town by the vagaries of her old car, Frankie the deer hunter a highly intelligent feral living on the edge of town (and possibility sanity), Old Pearl the fisherwoman pragmatic to the extreme, and Emily the English backpacker working her way around Australia yet seemingly stuck in Cann River. Each of the women will face violence and hate, and deal with it in a practical no nonsense way, joining forces to help each other through tricky situations.
By the end of this reading you’ll be able to feel the grittiness that is this story on your skin and in your hair, and next time you stop in a small country town on your way to elsewhere, you’ll make sure to keep your visit brief...
Check out all of Isobel's novels at her website: Isobel Blackthorn