Sunday, June 16, 2024

Guest review: THE QUARRY

THE QUARRY by Kim Hunt (2023)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Seeing something you shouldn't have makes life on the margins a whole lot scarier. Ranger Cal Nyx works alone in the vast NSW bushland reserves but is pulled away from the quiet and solitude by a coded message that only one other person could understand.

Dif, the only remaining link to her family, is in danger. He’s also the last person the police are going to take seriously. No stranger to the complications of Dif’s life, and with her femme MIA interstate, Cal burns rubber up and down a lonely coastline, calling in favours from her unique contacts to intercept a relentless killer.

Are Cal's skills, badass bravado and risky schemes enough to bring a single-minded murderer out of the shadows? Can she save the one and only person who truly gets her?!

Dif is a rough sleeper, for good reasons he is lying low, keeping clear of the law. However, when he witnesses a woman’s body being dumped in a quarry, he knows he must do something to get justice for the victim – but that he also must keep himself safe. He gathers scraps of evidence from the body before the next day’s quarry work obliterates it, and he tries for long-distance communication with his foster sister, NSW Park Ranger Cal Nyx, leaving her clues to follow.

Cal is taking a break from her job, trying, but failing, to face the death of her Aunt Zin. Zin took Cal in when she was at school and her life fell apart in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and soon after Dif joined the family. When Cal gets the first text message from Dif, she plunges into helping him, in part to distract herself from Zin’s death, in part through feeling bad for Dif, who “was a kind of magnet for shite at times”.

Cal takes off on a crazy trip up and down the NSW coast, north and south of Sydney – up and down so many times, she started to “feel like a frickin yo-yo”. At the same time, Dif is doing what he can to find out what sequence of events led to the incident at the quarry, and Cal is “sending messages into the ether and hoping Dif was at the other end”. Cal calls on her network to help with her investigating – she knows the best people for the job would be the cops, but also knows that could end up with the worst outcome for Dif.

Cal includes her friend/partner Detective Inspector Liz Scobie in her efforts, along with hackers, car mechanics, performers – all gifted women she knows. Things are tricky for Scobie for two reasons, there is Dif’s reticence to have anything to do with the police, and the fact that an ex-lover of hers is in command of the probably bent cop who is causing most of Dif’s grief. The reader picks up the different threads of the case from the various investigations.

Cal keeps racing around, sleeping in her car, wondering about life, getting pissed-off, and generally being a great character. She mucks up relationships, feels guilty about not being with Zin when she died, wonders what to do about a squatter who seems to have moved into her aunt’s house, worries about her injured dog, Banjo – and one time, after a cramped night sleeping in the car, she stretched her muscles on playground equipment: “To her surprise she found it exhilarating and fun.”

The Quarry is a great depiction of how people on the margins live dangerous lives, how hard it is to participate in society once society decides you don’t fit. Dif, is a transgender male, he has more than the usual fear of the cops, and of going to jail. Whenever he has tried to do good, his actions have been misunderstood, he is frail and frightened. He is terrified in the bush to see torchlight: “He’s come for me” – only to realise he is looking at the moon.

It is when Cal and Dif finally get to spend time together that the reader sees the young petrol heads who used to love hanging out together. The writing of The Quarry is atmospheric and moving, as well as pacey with plenty of action – Cal putting herself, or in one case flinging herself, into great danger on numerous occasions. The Quarry is the second Cal Nyx Mystery and I loved reading it. I look forward to reading more of Cal, her circle of friends, and their exploits.

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving former librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

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