A Clue for Clara by Lian Tanner

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

It is widely accepted that there is an insatiable thirst for the detective genre in novels, as is evidenced by the number of books bought or borrowed.  Most devotees are women especially book club members.  Therefore, it was with an air of familiarity that I picked up A Clue for Clara.

Clara is not about to join the likes of Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton’s creation who has staunchly advanced through the alphabet with such titles as A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar and so on.  The cover illustration soon dispels this for Clara is a small scruffy hen.

She has avidly watched the TV detective series Amelia X and Death in the City.  These she eagerly absorbs and feels qualified to solve a crime of her own, be it a murder, kidnapping or jewel heist.

Living in the small farming community of Little Dismal, she longs for excitement and the chance to demonstrate her hidden abilities.  The other chooks, especially Rufus the rooster and Polly the grande dame of the yard, regard Clara with contempt and disapproval.  She doesn’t feel she belongs to the group.

So follows a highly entertaining saga of Clara’s bid to discover criminal activity and bring the perpetrators to justice, as well as be admired and accepted by her peers.

The writing is clever.  The vocabulary is extensive and entertaining.  If a situation is puzzling, Clara references her favourite TV shows, which illumes the plot and is, at times, hilarious.

Illustrations, in line drawing form, are scattered throughout but 300 pages of text could be a challenge for some.  Nevertheless, they would feel proud in tackling and adult sized book.

Clara herself is exceptional.  Scientists now maintain that the term ‘bird brain’ is in fact a compliment as a hen’s brain/body ratio is higher than many larger animals including primates.  She exhibits talents which are amazing.  She spells and writes by pecking a mobile phone with her beak.  She is alert and quickly deduces facts from her observations.  Hallmarks of a good detective!

It is the humour, above all, that makes this book a delight to read.  A hen’s view of the world and fowl sense of it is bound to appeal.  For example, the phrase ‘carpe diem’ makes no sense to a chook so ‘carpe mus’ is better – ‘mus’ meaning mouse.

A light-hearted but almost convincing sketch of the intrepid Clara emerges.  Her abilities are variable and inconsistent.  She recognises three silos and spells this out in a phone message to Olive – her sidekick – yet mistakes ‘Dad’ for a Christian name [Constable Dad, father of Olive].  As the plot progresses, there are more challenges to reality but this is no drawback to the pleasure of reading this novel.  To a degree, Clara’s incredible talents enhance enjoyment.

The ending, after building suspense and the hilarious pursuit by this chook on a truck of stolen sheep, is satisfyingly happy.

Young readers would be proud of their reading a real detective novel and, in this Harry Potter era, its length would be no deterrent.

A Clue for Clara is packed with lively fun and perhaps destined to be as famous as the clever hen wished for so fervently.

Lian Tanner has had a colourful career.  Prior to writing, she began as a teacher but meandered into a range of jobs including busking until arrested, was bombed when scuba diving, and at one stage was searching the New Guinea jungles for a lost WW2 Japanese soldier.  She now writes in a quiet corner of Tasmania.

A Clue for Clara

[2020]

by Lian Tanner

Allen and Unwin

ISBN 9 781760 877 699

311pp; $16.99

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