- White Throat, by Sarah Thornton. Text Publishing, $32.99.
Sarah Thornton introduced her detective, disgraced corporate lawyer Clementine Jones (Clem) in her debut novel, Lapse (2019). Clem had killed a woman in a road accident, while drunk, and found refuge and anonymity in Katinga, a small Victorian town, where she uncovered criminal activity and corruption while coaching the local AFL team to victory.
In White Throat Clem is again in hiding, after the publicity surrounding the events in Lapse, housesitting in Piama, a "little coastal backwater" in Queensland, overlooking the Great Sandy Straits and Fraser Island.
The house is "a faded pastel-yellow fibro shanty" outside the town, "completely run down - brown stains under the window, mould under the eaves, rickety timber verandah". Clem knows it's the owner's dog Sergeant, a 55-kilogram bull-mastiff she's minding, rather than the house.
A law firm in Melbourne has contacted her wanting to expand its sports law division and looking for a solicitor with "a profile", and the offer is attractive.
Meanwhile the footballers in Katinga want to know when she'll be back for pre-season training.
She discovers that her Aunt Helen, who raised her after her mother died, now lives in Piama at Turtle Shores a "beautiful old Queenslander homestead and three acres of untouched bushland by the river, prized Piama real estate".
Helen is running the Wildlife Association of the Great Sandy Straits and, in particular, a Save the Turtle campaign. The survival of the endangered freshwater white-throated snapping turtle is threatened by a proposal by Marakai mining to open a new coalmine inland from Piama, with a road and rail network through the turtles' habitat, which would be dredged to build a deep-water port.
The development has a lot of local support. New jobs are promised, but for pensioners in the town it's "heaven-sent relief". A financial planning fraudster had targeted the town's pensioners, wiping out savings and superannuation. Marakai Mining would buy out their houses to make room for the port.
When Helen is found dead in a quarry and the police decide it's suicide, Clem is not convinced. Helen has been murdered, but no one believes her. Doggedly she draws up a list of suspects, reckless and fearless in her pursuit of the truth, risking her life and that of others because "people can't go pushing other people off cliffs, good people, loving people . . . caring for their neighbours and their planet".
White Throat is not only thrilling reading but also a timely reminder of the threat to Australia's endangered native species from greedy vested interests.