Reviewed by E.B. Heath
Even some of the best crime authors are so plot oriented that, in the telling, prose styles become formulaic, train tracks for speedy storylines. And the crime stands alone, left unconnected to broader community issues, like a cryptic crossword writ large and woven into a simulated time and place. None of which applies to author, Liane Moriarty, whose shrewd intelligence and humour appears in every chapter.
Moriarty’s latest mystery novel, Apples Never Fall, bristles with witty prose and engaging characters whose lives would command attention even if nothing else were happening. All the while, dark societal issues are being written about with the lightness of a feather quill. In this novel, Moriarty turns her penetrating gaze on marriage and the discontent that simmers beneath the surface of human relations.
Stan and Joy Delaney seemingly have the perfect marriage both on and off the tennis court. Tennis has been a lifelong all-consuming passion, shared by their four children who were encouraged to play competitively from an early age, although never quite reaching their full potential. The Delaney family had a successful business coaching tennis for many years, but now in retirement, they are struggling to adapt to a quieter life. Joy is feeling rising resentment about several issues: not being presented with grandchildren, being the backbone of the family and the business, she had to keep on keeping on, whereas Stan walked away when it all got too much. Sometimes she abrogated responsibility by fantasizing about kidnappers bursting into the house, bundling her into the back of their van and taking her away for a long rest in a nice, cool, quiet dungeon. Joy always kept her bitterness concealed: That was the secret of a happy marriage: step away from the rage.
Stan is ‘old school’, a strong solid man’s man, the type that rejects modern technology as unnecessary: The way he talked about his ‘stance’ on mobile phones, you would think he were the lone person in the crowd not giving the Nazi salute. When Stan is in hospital having knee surgery, his daughter Amy said: It’s like seeing Thor in a hospital gown. As the novel progresses, Moriarty fills in the blanks, linking his behaviour traits to his violent father and spiteful mother.
The four adult children: Amy, plagued with mental health issues, but with a charming ability to ‘connect’ – People sensed that Amy offered the possibility of redemption. Logan is a dependable business communications teacher, modest and so unlike his brother Troy. Troy is wealthy, divorced, and a highly successful trader, who revels in the high life. And, Brooke, dogged by migraines and a failing physiotherapist practice. Troy, Logan and Brooke have recently separated from long-term partners, which in itself causes sadness as Joy can see the possibility of grandchildren diminishing.
A mystery stranger, Savannah, is added to this captivating tangle of a family. Joy takes Savannah into her home in a bid to help her recover from a traumatic life.
Then this potpourri of characters must cope with a tragic event – the disappearance of Joy. Naturally the police are called, and readers meet Detective Senior Constable Christina Khoury who Moriarty tells us: She didn’t come from old money or new money but from never-quite-enough money.
Such is the core of Apples Never Fall. Readers will be knitted into the past and present via alternating chapters. Back-stories round out each character, and before long, readers will feel they really know these people; what they might struggle with is foreseeing possible outcomes and consequences. There is a lengthy denouement that is very satisfying; often readers are left to construct their own version of what-happened-next, but here all the ends are sewn up neatly.
Liane Moriarty is the author of eight internationally best selling novels, no doubt Apples Never Fall, is destined to be number nine.
By Liane Moriarty
Pan Macmillan Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
Hardback $39.99; eBook $14.99; AudioBook $45.00