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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Six Books Set in Australia that Are Fair Dinkum Fascinating

Six Great Australian Reads

Fridays are for highlighting books I've loved, and I have a thing for books set in Australia (this is illustrated by my demonstrated Jane Harper obsession alone; two of her books are listed here and I stand by this wholeheartedly).

Side note: Am I using "fair dinkum" correctly? I have a feeling someone will correct me if I'm wildly off base here.

Other books with Australian settings that I've been hooked by include Jess Kidd's The Night Ship; Christina Baker Kline's The Exiles; two more by Jane Harper, The Dry and Force of Nature; Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country; The Rosie Project; Big Little Lies; and What Alice Forgot.

If you've read any of the books mentioned here, I'd love to hear what you think!

Do you have any favorite reads set in Australia?


01 Exiles (Aaron Falk #3) by Jane Harper

The third in Jane Harper's Aaron Falk series offers procedural detail, a lush Australian setting, and character development I found heartwarming and immensely satisfying.

I love Aaron Falk stories and I loved the twisty interconnectedness of the characters in Exiles. Harper allows for Falk to develop more fully as a character--as a friend, a romantic interest, a father figure, and a detective. Yet she allows for new opportunities for him that felt real and possible, which I again loved.

I wasn't ever sure who was responsible for the multiple tragedies at the heart of the story, and the resolutions make sense. Meanwhile Harper explores loyalty, procedural details related to the past and near past, beginnings and endings, and looooove.

Jane Harper's The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) is set in small-town Australia with dark secrets and twists and turns, and she offers more of her excellent pacing in Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2).

I'm in for all Jane Harper and all Aaron Falk stories! Exiles was the right mystery at the right time for me.

For my full review, check out Exiles.


02 The Wife and the Widow by Christian White

White's twisty mystery is set against the backdrop of an unforgiving winter on an Australian island, with two women attempting to piece together their husbands' secrets and lies.

Christian White's The Wife and the Widow offers two intersecting storylines centering around female protagonists, family secrets, shame, and hidden selves.

The tone of the story is shaped by its setting: an unforgiving winter on an Australian island.

The perspectives alternate by chapter: Kate is a widow who uncovers her dead husband's secret life and must come to terms with it, while Abby is an island local whose husband has hidden something significant, and she fears it is his guilt. Only when the two women's worlds intersect can they piece together the full stories of their husbands' lives and understand the impact of their lies.

White offers cleverness with timelines that create an intriguing twist, and I didn’t predict the denouement. The amateur taxidermy was fascinating and horrifying.

For my full review, check out The Wife and the Widow.


03 The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Morton offers a Secret Garden-type tale for grown-ups, with twisty stories connected across time.

Cassandra is devastated. Her beloved grandmother Nell has just died, and Cassandra's life has felt shaky since a terrible accident a decade earlier.

When Cassandra learns that she has inherited a book of dark fairy tales from Eliza Makepeace—the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century—she begins a quest to discover the truth about her history, her family, and everything she thought she knew about her life.

The Forgotten Garden was over 500 pages and I was engrossed the whole way through.

This was like a Secret Garden for grown-ups, with intertwined, mysterious stories from 1900, 1975, and 2005 and a vivid setting, interesting characters, and enough twists to keep you guessing.

Morton is also the author of The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, The Lake House, The Clockmaker's Daughter, and Homecoming.


04 Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

The emotions and drives of the story feel real, but the tone is darkly playful. I loved spending time with main protagonist Eli as he navigated tough situations and emerged with hope.

Eli Bell is a young man in a tough spot. His father's out of the picture, his mother's in jail, his stepfather is gone, and his best friend and most solid source of advice is a convicted felon and legendary prison escapee, Slim. Eli's beloved older brother August is brilliant, but he never speaks. Things are complicated.

Oh, and there's a secret panel in the back of the wardrobe at Eli's house. Behind the panel is a tunnel, and at the end of the tunnel is a room. In the room is a red telephone, and the male voice on the line gives Eli advice. Who is the man? Can he be trusted? Is any of this even real?

Eli lives in a bleak, distant suburb of Brisbane, Australia. He wants to grow up and become a journalist, but for now his main goal is trying not to attract too much attention or bring any trouble down on himself or his brother.

Trent's debut novel sifts through everyday brutality, corruption, and the general neglect of people and possessions and reveals imperfect goodness and hope. Boy Swallows Universe has many larger-than-life characters, especially its villains. Despite the desperate behaviors of the adults in Eli's life (and the terrible consequences he suffers because of them), he emerges as a fantastic, oddball, singularly heroic character I loved spending time with.

For my full review, check out Boy Swallows Universe.


05 Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

This story was often brutal to read, but it was beautifully written, in a style that felt perfectly suited for the stark Australian outback setting.

Only Killers and Thieves is set in the Australian outback at the end of the 19th century. It centers around one family’s conflicts with crooked and powerful neighbors; cruel and aggressive Native Police aiming to eradicate the aboriginal people; the killing drought; and each other.

One poor judgment leads to another, foolish choices end in bloodshed, and one brother makes justifications for his actions and feels no remorse, while the other brother feels crushed by it all.

Howarth explores questions such as: Can people really change? Is remorse useful, and does it make a person more redeemable? Can a person’s character or morality be decided in a moment, or in a series of defining moments?

Toward the end of Only Killers and Thieves, we see messy second chances take shape, a little retribution, and an attempt at a changed existence—but the haunting memories of the past creep in relentlessly.

For my full review, check out Only Killers and Thieves.


06 The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Harper's mysteries read like twisty character-driven Westerns set in Australia, and things aren’t always what they seem.

Nathan and Bub have always had their differences, but they come together to grieve the loss of their brother Cam. Cam had been bothered by something before he died unexpectedly in the Australian outback desert, but was his death really the out-of-character suicide it was meant to look like--or did someone kill him? Nathan is no detective, but he owes it to Cam not to give up until he figures out what happened.

Harper skillfully builds the pool of potential culprits for Nathan to examine in this story of uncovering truths, family history, loyalty, stubbornness, and love.

Her books read like Westerns to me, and her sometimes spare tone suits the setting, the stark situations in which she places her characters, and the straightforward characters themselves.

Things aren’t what they seem in The Lost Man, but Harper isn’t manipulative or tricky, either. I thought this was great.

For my full review, check out The Lost Man.

I listed this book in the Greedy Reading List The Six Best Mysteries I Read Last Year.


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