J.P. Pomare’s debut crime thriller Call Me Evie was good, but his next book In the Clearing (Hachette 2020) is even better, on a whole other level. This is a truly page-turning and unputdownable story that will keep you on edge as the plot thickens, the tensions increase and the stakes become higher for all of the main characters. About half-way through, there is a clever and unexpected twist that recalibrated my thinking about all I had read so far, and had me turning back to the beginning to re-read and reconsider the story. But this is not the only surprising turn of events. The unsettling twists and reveals in this story continue all the way through, to the very last page, shifting our perspectives on many of the characters until we end up very far from where we thought we were going at the start of the book.

This is an engaging crime thriller, so I can’t say much more without spoilers, but suffice to say that this book will hook you from the very beginning, and then slowly reel you in; it will cause you to constantly doubt the veracity of what you have read; and the creepy conclusion will ask more questions than it answers.

The two main characters are Amy and Freya. Amy is growing up within the confines of the Clearing, a confined and contained community with strict rules and disciplines. She knows what is expected of her. She is loyal to the group’s philosophies. But when a young girl joins the group, her unease and her desire to leave the community affect Amy like nothing before, and she faces choices she never dreamed she would have to consider.

Freya is going about her life as normally as possible, given her past circumstances. She and her young son Billy are each other’s world, as close as a mother and son can be. But then a young girl goes missing, escalating every mother’s fear for their own child. And when someone reappears from Freya’s past, someone she hasn’t seen for a long time, her fear becomes more concentrated.

The stories of Amy and Freya gradually become interconnected, weaving their lives together, confronting the past and the present. Both Amy and Freya tell their stories in the first person, and as the novel continues, questions begin to surface as to whether one or both of them are entirely reliable narrators. The history of the small town in which they live contains dark secrets which, if exposed, will threaten the fragile equilibrium that balances their everyday lives. The book is structured with a tense countdown of days until crucial events (but the details of those events are hidden from the reader until each deliciously agonising slow reveal). Informed loosely by true historical events, the story is tense, taut, compelling and compulsive reading. This book will keep you on high alert the entire time and leave you with an unsettling feeling that you have only witnessed the tip of the iceberg, with so much more hidden away beneath.