How can a teenage girl go missing, in a small town where everyone knows everyone? How can her whereabouts remain unknown, decades later, in a small town where no one can have any secrets? These are the questions that fuel Lowbridge, a debut novel by Canberra-based writer Lucy Campbell, kindly sent to me for review by the team at Ultimo Press.
Tess Dawes was 17-years-old when she vanished outside the local shopping center in 1987. She’s presumed dead, but no one knows for sure what happened to her – it’s a mystery that has haunted the (fictional) town of Lowbridge for decades.
In 2018, Katherine is grieving the loss of her own daughter when she moves with her husband to his hometown. Their relationship is strained, as he believes her grief is consuming her, and the only way she can keep him off her back is by getting involved with the local historical society. That’s where she learns of Tess’s disappearance, and she becomes obsessed with the cold case.
I’ll warn you: it takes a while for the narrative of Lowbridge to catch up to the blurb. Nothing I’ve said so far could constitute a spoiler, but it takes until about a third of the way through the novel for all of those facts to be established. By that point, I was feeling impatient, waiting for one of the timelines (Tess or Katherine’s) to progress past what I’d already learned by glancing at the back cover.
When the story finally gets underway, it ends up being a bit convoluted. Lowbridge just doesn’t quite hit the beats, even though all of the essential elements are there (missing girl, suspicious locals, politics, gender roles, wealth divide). The prose (especially the dialogue) is clunky, and exposition-heavy. When the resolution came around, it was exactly what you’d expect, with no surprises or curve-balls.
I admire what Campbell has tried to do with Lowbridge, though, looking at girls who are mourned and those who are forgotten. I hope she has another crack at it – practice makes perfect and all that.
Buy Lowbridge on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)