The eponymous Tasmanian town of Poppy Gee’s Vanishing Falls is the kind of town that invites cliches. It’s idyllic farm country. There are still mom and pop businesses on main street. But the residents know that this is just a thin veneer. Unemployment is everywhere and it’s far too easy to get one’s hands on methamphetamines. We get a good look underneath that veneer within pages when protagonist Joelle catches two of her fellow residents smoking meth in the school’s restroom after an event.
Joelle has always made people uncomfortable. She’s not the best at picking up on social cues. It took her a very long time to learn how to read; she never really did well in school. Plus there’s her mysterious past. All her overprotective husband knows is that Joelle had a bad time in the foster care system. For all that, Joelle is a very good observer, never seems to forget anything, and has a strong desire to do the right thing even if it’s scary. So when she catches one of the richest men in town and his crony smoking meth, it torments her that she is afraid to say anything to the police. Things only get worse when the meth pushes the crony into maniacal paranoia and starts to harass Joelle.
Meanwhile, the wife of the richest man in town suddenly goes missing. Once the police start asking questions, all of the pastoral pleasantry of Vanishing Falls disappears. No one seems able to hang on to their secrets anymore—except for the one person who is behind the disappearance, later murder, of Celia Lily, and other crimes.
I really enjoyed reading Vanishing Falls. Part of it was the setting; Tasmania doesn’t show up much in North American fiction. Part of it was the tangle of crimes that I got to unpick. Even the mastermind in this novel isn’t really much of a Moriarty. I appreciated seeing ordinary people get in over their heads and end up making things worse trying to get out of their problems. Mostly, I think it was Joelle. Unlike so many other characters I’ve seen in fiction who are not neurotypical or who have intellectual and other disabilities, Joelle is not a paragon. She’s made big mistakes in her past that she still hasn’t really dealt with, but I can sympathize with a woman who deals with things by repressing them and moving on as much as possible. I found Joelle to be a very unique character, one that I enjoyed trying to puzzle out at the same time I was trying to figure out what on earth was going on in this once paradisaical Tasmanian valley.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.