Tuesday, January 26, 2021


WHITE THROAT by Sarah Thornton (Text Publishing, 2020)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Disgraced former lawyer Clementine Jones is on the shores of paradise—Queensland’s Great Sandy Straits—trying to outrun her past.

Bored with her house-sitting gig, she becomes a reluctant recruit to the local environmental group, campaigning to save an endangered turtle as developers close in. Then a body is found at the base of a quarry, and Clem’s world is turned upside down.

The police say suicide. Clem’s convinced it was murder. She also knows she’s the only one interested in tracking down the killer. Well, the only one apart from her friend Torrens, ex-con and reformed standover man. And he’s got his own fight on his hands. 

When readers first met Clementine ‘Clem’ Jones, the disgraced Sydney lawyer had secreted herself away in the dusty inland town of Katinga and was trying to coach the local team to an historic championship while investigating the off-field troubles of an Aboriginal player. Lawyer-turned-writer Sarah Thornton's debut, LAPSE, was a thrilling rural crime novel about shame, secrets, and Aussie Rules football. Now in WHITE THROAT, Clem's back in action, though not back in Katinga. 

Housesitting in coastal Queensland, Clem’s quietly helping a local environmental group try to save the rare White Throated snapping turtle. Much to the chagrin of local developers and politicians. When Clem's pal Helen, the group’s leader, is found dead and the cops say suicide, Clem steps forward and strikes out on her own dangerous investigation. Meanwhile she’s being pulled in all directions by the entreaties of her Katinga players and townsfolk - who want her back - and big city law firms. 

Clem's trouble on the case mingle with worries about where her future lies. If she survives. 

Thornton delivers another engaging tale where plenty happens to keep the pages turning. She delivers a particularly strong sense of place, immersing readers in coastal Queensland and crafting a rich atmosphere with the small town and its surrounds and the variety of people who live and work there. 

At times I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about Clem as a main character - she can veer from heroic to pitying, crafty to rather foolish at times. She's a sharp lawyer, but also na├»ve at times. Readers enjoyment of WHITE THROAT may fluctuate depending on their feelings towards Clem. 

Thornton does a good job making readers care what happens - both in terms of Clem's investigation into her friend's death and how various outcomes will play out for her and other characters. More of a crime thriller than a mystery, in way - even though there's a murder mystery spine, the threat of bad things that may still come looms even larger. An action-packed slice of Aussie crime fiction. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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