Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Catch Us the Foxes by Nicola West is a twisty psychological thriller set in the small coastal community of Kiama, south of Sydney. At the end of the book, the author apologises to this town and its residents (past, present and future) as the town does play a major part in the storyline. She emphasises that ‘obviously, this novel is a work of fiction’ (378), but it was inspired by local urban legends and real crimes committed in this area of New South Wales’ (Press Release).
Catch Us the Foxes is the first novel to be published by this Sydney author. She was selected for the Australian Society of Authors’ 2019 Award Mentorship Program, where she worked with bestselling author Monica McInerney.
Following the advice often given to new authors to write about what you know, the main character in this book, Marlowe Robertson, is the local policeman’s daughter in an Australian beachside tourist town. In the Prologue, Marlowe is at the Sydney Opera House being interviewed as the author of the bestselling book The Showgirl’s Secret. The following page is a title page of the same name. This confused me for a while, as it was different from the book name but the difference between the two is made clear as the story unfolds.
As part of her internship with the local paper, Marlowe Robertson, known to friends as Lo, is tasked with taking photos of the Show Girl entrants, and specifically the beautiful, well spoken, intelligent Lily Williams, a ‘by-product of two of the town’s most prominent agricultural families’ (49).
It is while carrying out this duty that Lo was able to record, on her camera, Lily running from the Ghost Train with ‘a look of genuine terror imprinted on her features’ (13). Later, taking a short-cut through the showground stable area, Lo discovers Lily, lying on the ground with a pool of blood under her head. The small of her back was exposed revealing seven strange symbols.
As the police investigation gets underway, Lo becomes convinced that these symbols hold the key to Lily’s death, especially when her father forbids her from ever mentioning their existence. This feeling is reinforced when she is given Lily’s journals with the message that Lily was most adamant that she receives them. Before her death, Lily had given Marlowe a gift containing the Stone of Truth. The card accompanying this gift read, ‘Expose secrets, reveal hidden realities, unravel the mystery’ (46). Marlowe believes she is the one to expose Lily’s killer. Lily’s journals are filled with horrors, presumably from her early life, about a cult, fox hunts, people wearing fox masks and neo-pagan celebrations.
Told in the first person, the reader is privy to the thoughts and feelings Marlowe experiences as she seeks to unravel the mystery. Feelings of dread invade the storyline as leads twist and turn causing Marlowe to question herself as she experiences night terrors, lethargy, anxiety attacks and paranoia. She doesn’t know who she can trust. She begins to think that the task is ‘so futile. So unwinnable’ that she is ‘powerless’ (179) and it is killing her.
The author includes in her story issues surrounding mental illness, sex orientation, drug use – recreational and as a way to assert dominance, trust issues and differing belief systems to add confusion to the situation in this kind of town that ‘bred and nurtured prejudice’ (88). It was at this point that I had a flashback to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
The language used throughout, especially in the dialogue, I supposed could be classed as ‘modern’ or at least relevant to the many young characters making up this story. ‘What the fuck, dude’ (96), ‘really suss stuff’ (277) and ‘It was just another way for these sadistic fucks to control her…don’t let them gaslight you’ (315).
The author has even used the natural features around the town to add to the fearful mood of the narrative. ‘Being on the land (the Saddleback) gave me the same feeling as being at the blowhole. There was something primordial about it. Something to be feared’ (204). Although the story kept me tense as the story unfolded, I really enjoyed the back stories to local attractions and some of the characters as well as the Australiana references like, ‘You look like a fucking Irwin!’ ‘I looked down at the khaki-hued hiking ensemble I’d chosen’ (230).
The author leaves the reader with the following words ‘this is going to come off rich, given the terrible things that you’ve just read about Kiama in this book, but – in a twisted way – Catch Us the Foxes is actually a love letter to the town…I used to feel the identical way Marlowe felt – trapped and desperate to escape – and that feeling was the main catalyst for this book’ (378).
This is an interesting, suspenseful, story which stars an Australian location as much as it provides a twisted murder mystery.
by Nicola West
Simon & Schuster