There is, undeniably, a carefully and purposefully tiered (and at times formidable) class system that exists in Australian society. However, sometimes those in the top-tier echelons, living seemingly almost ethereal fairytale lives, living in opulent houses and wearing custom-made designer clothes that scream class, status, respectability and social standing are living behind a glittering and well-constructed facade.
Indeed, secrets do exist, in some instances, in the rarified world inhabited by those who appear to have ‘won’ life’s lottery as far as positions attained in life go. Even picture-perfect lives are subject to murky vagaries that are so well hidden, even close friends are ‘blind’ to their existence.
Such finely and assiduously honed truths are expertly examined in English- Australian author and journalist, Ali Lowe’s, latest sterling crime novel, The Running Club.
Set in the (fictional) New South Wales beachside enclaves of Esperance and Shivers Beach, this novel zeroes in on the lives of four highly privileged and upper-class (in certain instances by birth and in others by marriage), middle-aged women in the illustrious and sought-after Esperance (think Noosa or Byron Bay) Running Club. The club “runs five nights a week at seven o’clock”, and is a ‘time out’ for our protagonists from their frenzied lives.
Carole Latimer, forty-one, is from ‘old money’, having lashings of wealth; her husband, Max, having none. Thus, Carole controls the purse strings in the household. Max works for Carole’s dad’s, patriarch of the “Parkes family fortune”, hedge fund. Max and Carole have a thirteen year old daughter, Olivia (who attends Arlingford Ladies College, like her mum did, in Esperance) and teenage son, Otto.
While Carole Latimer grew up in the upmarket town of Esperance, Max hails from the ‘rough and coarse’ nearby town of Shivers Beach. So, in Max’s eyes, he is now ‘somebody’.
Twins Lottie and Shelby also grew up in Shivers Beach, in impoverished circumstances, and have now transformed themselves into society ladies by marrying ‘up in the world’. Lottie Denton, forty-two, is married to Piers, a celebrated gynaecologist (Head of Obstetrics at Mooney Waters Maternity Hospital), and they are parents to rambunctious teenager, Isobel (who also attends Arlingford Ladies’ College).
Shelby Massini, like Lottie, has gone up in the world through marriage. Shelby, an accountant at Esperance Prestige Motors, is married to Tino, a highly successful businessman, involved with apps. They have no children.
Freya Harrington, forty-one, from Shivers Beach has ‘made it’ by marrying sixty-eight year old Bernard, a barrister, and is now living a charmed life, despite feeling their twenty-seven year age gap is a hindrance to her and the way she wants to live her life. They don’t have children of their own, although Bernard has a couple of children from a previous relationship.
Freya, Lottie and Shelby were at Shivers Beach High together, along with Max. In fact, Shelby and Max were once a salubrious couple back in the day.
Esperance and Shivers Beach are starkly differing worlds apart (economically and class-wise), despite the fact that they are geographically close to each other in proximity.
Lottie feels, as a favoured member of the community – a status given to her by marrying the respected Dr Piers Denton – she should be seen to be doing charity work. Thus, Lottie begins working at St Paul’s charity shop for the homeless.
Managing St Paul’s, is the approachable and matronly Marella. Marella was at Shivers Beach High with the others, but she most certainly was not part of their gang. Instead, Marella was ostracised and made a social outcast at school through Shelby’s bullying, name calling and rumour-starting.
Marella now lives in an apartment on the outskirts of Esperance with her beloved dog, Rocky, and seems peacefully content with her life.
When Shelby is found, in a clearing on Esperance Beach, murdered, the rumour mill in town goes into overdrive. The thing is, virtually everyone who has known Shelby has a motive for wanting her dead.
I won’t provide any spoilers by detailing each of the ‘friends’ ‘ and others’ reasons for being hostile towards Shelby (inwardly at least). Suffice to say, there are a myriad of rocket fuels that are waiting to cause an intractable and endlessly reverberating explosion in many lives. These precursors to trouble and crime include infidelity, money troubles and Shelby’s seeming selfishness and self-centredness.
Who killed Shelby in the veritably sublime and tranquil (or is it?) locale of Esperance, and why? Who was Shelby entwined with romantically, outside of her husband? Which of the seemingly fortuitous couples are secretly having money problems?
Can Detective Sergeant Angela Murphy and Detective Senior Constable Jason Wu solve the case, and in an acceptable time frame? What secrets and metaphorical bombs will detonate in the ‘perfect’ town of Esperance, and who will be affected in the treacherous aftermath?
Ali has written a crime novel that is imbued with breathtaking talent, with intelligence and wisdom shining through every page. Ali’s insights into the human psyche and condition are intricately real and meticulous.
Bravo Ali! Every page in The Running Club exudes class and style. The book gripped me from the first page, and wouldn’t let me go until I’d read the last word. This is a novel to be included in a reading list for your book club. I loved The Running Club, and can’t wait to read what Ali writes next!