Review Blog

Oct 19 2020

Hermit by S. R. White

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Headline, 2020. ISBN: 9781472268419.
(Age: Senior secondary/adult) Highly recommended. Dana Russo and Nathan Whittler, one the detective and the other the suspect, are both damaged people. In both cases their families have significantly affected their personalities and the way they conduct their lives. They have a synchronicity which grows more apparent to both them and the reader as the mystery unfolds.
Nathan Whittler is found with bloodied hands crouched over the body of a local shop owner when the police arrive in answer to a silent alarm. Lou Cassavette is dead; a single stab wound seemingly expertly delivered. Dana Russo's day off has been interrupted, as have her suicidal thoughts on this her special anniversary day.
Dana has been chosen to lead the investigation because it is felt she could gain the confidence of Whittler. Since his arrest he has said nothing and appears totally withdrawn and unwilling to share any information. He is the obvious suspect: bloodied plastic bags on his feet, gloved hands and signs of entry through a window into the shop.
With patience, gentleness and understanding Dana gains insight into the life of Nathan Whittler. He is a local, but there is no intel about him for the last 15 years. He has no credit card; his bank account hasn't been accessed; there is no tax record, in fact no record at all. The further Dana delves the more parallels she finds she has with Nathan's family dynamics and the more empathy she has with the damaged person Nathan Whittler has become.
Nathan's upbringing on a small land holding was one of a religion that was strict and unforgiving and seemingly his parents, well known as religious fanatics, were to blame for Nathan having to escape so thoroughly from society. But the story of Jeb, his older brother begins to emerge. Some one very different from Nathan both physically and psychologically, Jeb is a big man, successful in business and used to getting what he wants. He would also like to see his brother who has turned up out of the blue after 15 years.
Set somewhere in Australia, Hermit is not quite a member of the Australian noir set in my opinion because there is no great sense of place. The story could have been set anywhere with only the occasional reference which would remind you of the setting. This however in no way lessens the impact of S. R. White's story telling. The fact that Dana Russo carries the baggage of her upbringing with her at all times but especially on the "day" makes her very different from the usual crime fiction detective. Nathan Whittler is also a very different suspect; there is nothing of the serial killer, rapist, sexual sadist about him which is very refreshing.
For a first novel it is a great read and I recommend it highly.
Themes: Crime, Religious fanatics, Psychological trauma.
Mark Knight

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