What a joy to discover a story with the beautiful lyricism of poetry, the depth of characterisation and wisdom of a family saga, and the page-turning intrigue of a crime mystery. Although Gemini Falls (Affirm Press 2022) is Sean Wilson’s debut novel, his background as a playwright and short story writer is evident in this magnificent tale set during the Great Depression in rural Victoria and told from the perspective of 13-year-old Morris Turner.
As with all good crime stories, Gemini Falls begins with the discovery of a body, in this case a young woman, Catherine Fletcher, found at the entrance to a mine tunnel in the small outback town of Gemini. Detective Jude Turner takes the call; although he now lives in the city, in Hawthorn, with Morris and his older sister, Lottie, Gemini is Jude’s hometown, and he’s been called back to investigate the case. The children’s mother is absent, this fact only one of the mysteries of this story that entangles together like a knotted ball of twine.
With the ever-present threat of polio rife in the city, Jude Turner packs up his two children for an extended visit back to Gemini. The children are introduced to Jude’s brother Jimmy, his wife and their teenage daughter Flo, who is a keen amateur detective. She’s read everything she can get her hands on about detecting and solving cases, gathering evidence, motives and suspects, and can hardly believe her luck that her cousins have arrived with their policeman father. She immediately sets about recruiting Morris and her local friend (and keen thespian) Sam, who is the son of the Mayor, to form their own band of detectives, and to solve the case before the adults.
There is local confrontation with the many jobless and homeless travellers who have formed a sort of shanty town on the outskirts of Gemini proper, with continued conflict about the scarcity of resources. As patient and diligent Detective Jude Turner goes about his investigation with restraint and respect, the adolescents use their own resourcefulness and inventive subterfuge to find out what they can about the possible killer.
As the story develops, it is apparent that there are historical secrets in Gemini related to Jude and his family. These are foreshadowed and hinted at in a precise and subtle way throughout the text, culminating in an unexpected and surprising revelation.
There are so many great aspects to this novel. The characterisation is brilliant. The narration by young Morris is spot on in terms of language, personality, his relationship with his father and his sister, and the kind of family values he has been taught. His cousin Flo is a fantastic, feisty, fiery, determined and adventurous girl who (the horror!) wears boys’ clothes and seemingly has no fear. All of the other characters are written with authenticity, quirkiness and a refreshing individuality.
The landscape, setting and environment of rural Australia in the 1930’s is depicted with evocative and careful detail. The mental map of Gemini and its surrounds materialises in the reader’s mind without effort.
The story is well plotted, with the rising tension and suspense expected of a good crime novel. Wilson manages to incorporate this with gorgeous writing and a sense of intrigue and mystery.
Finally, the novel explores themes in a sensitive and nuanced way – prejudice, family, betrayal, love, friendship, ambition, misogyny, poverty, classism and tolerance.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it to readers who love both crime and beautiful, literary writing. I can’t wait to see what Sean Wilson writes next.