The man in the water by David Burton
University of Queensland Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780702262524. 250pp.
(Age: 14 - Adult) Highly recommended. A book for mystery lovers both teen and adult, Burton takes the reader to the Queensland outback into a small mining town, uncovering secrets and competing interests as Shaun a young teen sees a body floating in the local dam. When he brings a constable back, the body has disappeared and he is not believed by anyone except his best friend Will, and together they decide to investigate the disappearance themselves.
Rural noir is very popular and The man in the water fits into that category very well. Burton is obviously familiar with his setting of mining towns and the outback and this background brings a depth to the story. Disputes between the unions and management about employing fly in fly out people rather than locals and drought affecting surrounding pastoralists are described as Shaun and Will try to work out why the body disappeared and who it could be.
Burton has fairly short chapters with minor cliff hangers at the end of many of them and these proved to be the hooks that grab the reader's attention and keep them reading on for more of the action. There are lots of red herrings as Shaun and Will chase after different clues and the reader is kept in the dark.
Will's friendship and trust in Shaun is a highlight of the novel, as even Shaun's mother is convinced that he is seeing things, a left over result of his father's suicide earlier. Mental health and the issue of suicide in rural towns is also explored.
As a fan of mysteries I was intrigued by both the background and the crime and believe it could easily be picked up by adults as well as teens. Even though the main characters are in Year 10, the crime itself is a fascinating one and will keep readers guessing until the end. Teacher's notes are available and it would be suitable for a literature circle or class novel as a mystery story with lots of background issues for discussion.
Themes: Mystery/Adventure, Family, Friendship, Honesty, Loyalty, Courage, Trust, Grief, Suicide.