Have just read the first novel of my fellow writer and rural blogger, Fleur McDonald. Fleur and her husband run a cattle station in Western Australia, but this novel, Red Dust, is set on a sheep station in South Australia.
I’ve never been to a sheep station but I feel as if I could almost run one after reading Red Dust, as the settings and daily operations are so vividly and clearly described. Fleur knows what she’s writing about and it gives real credibility to the whole work.
But that’s only incidental to the rattling good yarn of sheep rustling and stock squad detective work. This story is interwoven with the difficulties and discoveries of the widowed Gemma as she keeps the sheep station running despite all predictions, following her husband’s death in a light plane crash — right before her eyes.
Yes, there’s romance, but it’s suitably subtle in its development in Gemma’s case — although for her best friend Jess, the riotous redhead, there’s no holds barred! Fleur’s ear for dialogue and idiom is spot on, and adds much to the characterisation.
It’s great to see a story of contemporary rural Australia by a female writer who can write equally well about the practical and the emotional sides of the business, of living well out of town and of running a farm. And who can use that grounding to spin a tale of intrigue where you don’t know who dunnit until she chooses to tell you!
I’m betting this will be a film or a TV special in the not-too-distant future. Bravo Fleur!
Red Dust is published by Allen & Unwin and will be in bookshops from 4th May.