Title: Digging up Dirt (Poppy McGowan)
Author: Pamela Hart
Genre: Cozy Crime
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 2nd June 2021
Synopsis: Renovations are hell. And that’s before you find the body beneath the floorboards. An intriguing mystery from a stylish new voice in crime fiction, for readers of Kerry Greenwood and Holly Throsby.
When your builder finds bones under the floor of your heritage home, what do you do? For TV researcher Poppy McGowan, the first step is to find out if the bones are human (which means calling in the cops and delaying her renovations) or animal (which doesn’t).
Unfortunately, ‘help’ comes in the form of Dr Julieanne Weaver, archaeologist, political hopeful, and Poppy’s old enemy. She declares the bones evidence of a rare breed of fat-tailed sheep, and slaps a heritage order on the site. The resultant archaeological dig introduces Poppy to Tol Lang, the best-looking archaeologist she’s ever met – and also Julieanne’s boyfriend.
When Julieanne is found murdered in Poppy’s house, both she and the increasingly attractive Tol are considered suspects – and so Poppy uses her media contacts and news savvy to investigate other suspects. Did Julieanne have enemies in the right-wing Australian Family Party, for which she was seeking preselection, or in the affiliated Radiant Joy Church? Or at the Museum of New South Wales, among her rivals and ex-boyfriends? And who was her secret lover?
Can Poppy save herself, and Tol … and finally get her house back?
When Pamela first announced this book, I knew I had to read it – an amateur sleuth, set in Australia in current times sounded perfect – and it is. Just like Phryne Fisher and Rowland Sinclair, Poppy McGowan has a talent for attracting crime and a touch of controversy. Her work takes her into historical Sydney, and when bones are discovered under her house, she must wait for archaeologists to determine where the bones come from and what their historical value is. Enter Julieanne Weaver and Tol Lang, who work to determine what is what. Yet bubbling beneath the murky surface are secrets and enemies.
When Julieanne is murdered, Poppy is thrust into a world of politics and religion, where a Pentecostal Church with rather extreme ideas is trying to force its way into state parliament – and Julieanne is connected. Poppy works with Tol and her friends at the ABC, and Detective Chloe, to uncover the truth – but what will digging up dirt uncover – not just in Poppy’s house, but in the Australian Family Party and its affiliated church, Radiant Joy Church?
Pamela Hart’s new book is sure to capture her current fans and crime lovers. Sydney and all its diversity – the people, the places, the sights and the sounds just leap off the page and create a world so full of life that it feels as though it is happening right next to you as you read the book. I loved all the characters and I loved that they could just be who they were – be it male, female, gay, straight, Muslim, Indigenous – everyone who appeared on the page felt genuine, even those Poppy disagreed with. It allowed the frustrations of these characters, and many of our very real-world conflicts based on the diversity and differences listed above to be illustrated and show that difference of opinion is okay and showed how stark the difference between tolerance and intolerance can be, and how warped beliefs such as those that came from the Radiant Joy Church can be harmful to everyone exposed to them. Ultimately, what I loved about this was that Pamela’s characters are open and accepting – nothing is forced on anyone, they talk openly and are allowed to be who they are proudly and in ways that explore a wide range of humanity within 300 odd pages. I was joyfully captured by everything these characters had to offer in this book, making it one of those books that ensures that you are in for a good read.
The story is thrilling and certainly brought ideas of what archaeological and historical sites and stories we do not know about might be hiding beneath Sydney, and indeed the rest of Australia. It would be an interesting exercise to find out, even if we only discover some. Poppy as a very likeable character for me – I loved the way she tried to understand those around her and their beliefs – she may not have had time for some of the more extreme views – but by the same token, those people also refused to listen to others, and this reflection of how we all deal with competing beliefs felt realistic and worked very well with the story line, which seamlessly came together as it developed across the novel, allowing the clues to be dropped at the right time and in the right place, with requisite red herrings, and a few hints that gave me some ah ha moments towards the end of the book, but shh, no spoilers! You’ll have to read the entire book to find out!
Even the background and side characters were full of life. I’m hoping that we find out more about some of them, especially Poppy’s work colleagues in subsequent books, as I found I really wanted to know more about people like Mirha. The contrast between what Poppy wanted and what her parents expected was very well done as well – it made for an interesting dynamic, and perhaps some interesting conflicts in the future. We shall have to wait and see! This is a fantastic novel, and one I would love to read again, because I feel like there might be more to discover upon a second reading, and I loved Pamela’s take on crime fiction. I already love her historical fiction, and her crime fiction is just as good, with the same heart, humour and attention to detail that makes the setting, characters and plot work in exquisite ways for the reader.
A banging book filled with history, and everything I love about working in an education field in the arts.