#SheReviews Ripper By Shelley Burr

March 5, 2024

Australian country towns are, going on initial appearances, a frontier embodiment, and time capsule of, deeply embedded old-fashioned customs, values and relationships…….or are they?

There are some Australian country towns that exist as a veritable mirage of their ‘glory days’. Days long extinguished, but silently longed for.

Such timely propositions are eloquently and classily expounded, and given much credence, in phenomenally talented Australian author, Shelley Burr’s, latest novel – the impossible to-put-down crime thriller, Ripper.

Set in the (fictional) small town of Rainier, located midway between Sydney and Melbourne (the real town located at this well-placed juncture is Tarcutta), Ripper explores a town and it’s people who have all seen better days.

Our heroine (she is, isn’t she?) and chief protagonist in Ripper is the outwardly confident and feisty Gemmy Guillory, the thirty-six year old wife of Sergeant Hugh Guillory (one of only two policeman stationed in town, the other being Detective Mick Seabrook, married to Aubrey).

Gemma eagerly runs and owns the ever-humming and frequented ‘Earl Grey’s Yarn and Teashop’, which has been in the Grey (Gemma’s maiden name) family since Gemma’s grandmother stoically ran the business back in the day. Gemma and Hugh’s independent daughter, Violet (along with her friends Jac and Fawn) is in her final year of high school, and wise beyond her years.

Rainier has a dark and dubious name throughout Australia. There is murder, grief and unfathomable angst, trauma and ever-present and deeply permeating anxiety in it’s haunted and unenviable history. This is due to the fact that seventeen years prior to the present, three murders took place in Rainier, carried out by a man dubbed the ‘Rainier Ripper’ (a now elderly psychopath named Jan Henning-Klosner, who has been languishing in jail for many years, specifically a section called ‘The Special Purpose Centre’).

The Ripper’s three victims were Eva Novakova (who was pregnant and not properly identified at the time, thus given the European name as her features were thought to be European), Dean Shadwell and Vincent Tjibaou. It was to Gemma’s horror that, as a nineteen year old working in the Teashop, one eery and threatening night, a fatally wounded Dean came to the door. Gemma has been inwardly haunted and mentally scarred by this unwelcome occurrence that transpired in her life back then. As we are told, “Gemma would never be able to unsee the body in the fountain (Vincent’s). She could never forget Dean Shadwell’s last moments.

Christian Holst (one of the townsfolk) couldn’t forget finding Vincent. No-one who was escorted through the morgue in a fruitless attempt to identify Eva Novakova could ever erase the image of what was left of her. No-one in town could ever move past three months of shared nightmares and constant anxiety”.

In the present, things become morbidly unsettling when the man planning to run ‘Rainier Ripper Tours’ (to try to cash in on the town’s notoriety), Lochlan Lewis, is found murdered in the fountain.

Gemma can trust that no person residing in Rainier could be responsible for Lochlan’s death…..can’t she? Is there someone trying to copy the Ripper murders?  Lochlan body was found in the fountain, the same as was Vincent’s.

Are the citizens of Rainier beacons of respectability or sordid hiders of crime and secrets? Are Dr Tim Nicholls and his no-nonsense wife, Lotte (the town’s GP and Magistrate respectively) deserving of the respect of the townsfolk, or are they conspirators in some form?

What has Christian Holst (owner of the pub and hearer of confessions) heard whilst working behind the bar?

Gemma is entranced by Dean’s brother, Marcus, who has come to stay at the premises above Earl Grey’s Yarn and Teashop. What brings him to Rainier after all this time? Is he the white knight Gemma needs in her life?

What can we make of the Dillons, a farming family from the outer limits of Rainier?

Former private investigator Lane Holland is in the “Tin” (prison) with Jan. Will Lane get Jan to confess who Eva really was (people are desperate to know)? What happened to Eva’s baby?

Why is Paton Carver, governor of the prison, keen to utilise Lane’s investigative skills? Is Carver’s daughter Matilda (who went missing years ago) actually Eva?

Are even the police in Rainier and beyond to be trusted?

Many people loathed Lochlan Lewis, but who would actually be driven to murder him?

Was Jan responsible for all three murders in Rainier seventeen years ago? He confessed to being responsible for all three deaths, didn’t he?

Gemma (perhaps she should have been in the police force in another life) is ferociously ‘on the case’, and nobody it seems should mess with her.

Shelley has written a novel that overflows with intelligence, wisdom, insight, empathy and compassion (when warranted) and reverberating tension.

Themes of grief, post-traumatic-stress-disorder, trauma, anxiety, marital relationships, friendship and teenage issues are strongly, and at-times delicately, and always capably and masterfully dealt with. Shelley’s forensically accurate insight into the human psyche is breathtaking and powerful in the extreme.

Bravo Shelley! You definitely have knocked it out of the ballpark with this one. Ripper is the sort of thriller that you will want to stay up all night reading. It’s that riveting and suspenseful.

Ripper is the sequel to Shelley’s first novel, Wake. However Ripper can be read without having read Wake. Lane Holland’s character is written into Wake, so this gives the reader more of his backstory if desired.

I loved Ripper. Please put me down to read anything Shelley writes next. She is one of the best contemporary writers not only in Australia, but worldwide in my opinion.

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