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"Exiles" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

At the Marralee Valley Festival in South Australia's wine country, the community is shocked when a sleeping baby is discovered alone in a stroller near the edge of the festival grounds. An identifying note is attached to her blanket. She is the daughter of Kim and Rohan Gillespie, former residents of Marralee Valley.

Kim and her baby were attending the festival to meet long-time family and friends. Kim never returns to her abandoned baby. Her disappearance is a mystery until one of her shoes is discovered in the reservoir near the festival. Following an investigation, which exonerates her husband and her ex-partner Charlie, officials determine that Kim’s death was a suicide.

Zara, the teen daughter of Kim and Charlie, refuses to believe that her mother killed herself. Zara confesses her concerns to her father’s best friend, Aaron Falk, a federal investigator from Melbourne who is visiting during the festival a year after Kim’s disappearance.

Zara convinces Falk to re-examine every detail about the night her mother left her baby and threw herself into the deep waters of the reservoir. Falk’s instincts lead him to believe that Zara is right; there is something nefarious surrounding the death of her mother.

Joel, a classmate and close friend of Zara’s, is still grieving over the hit-and-run accident of his father near the reservoir five years earlier. He doesn’t trust that the local sheriff has done enough to find the driver of the car that killed his father. He shares his frustration with Falk who believes there are unanswered questions regarding this accident.

Falk’s instincts compel him to look further into the mystery of an unsolved deadly accident and a body never found. He hopes to reassure the teens that all that can be done, has been done.

The plot of “The Exiles” is intriguing. Themes of family and trust permeate the novel. The lush bushlands of Australia provide an evocative setting. Readers will long remember the characters who are presented as kind and faithful. Of course, as it is with all humans, some motivations and inner thoughts are never on display.

Jane Harper is a best-selling author. Aaron Falk is a recurring character in some of Harper’s books. It is not necessary to have read her other books to enjoy this crime/thriller. One of her books featuring Falk, “The Dry”, was made into a 2021 movie.

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