Sarah Bailey on Hatchette's Grand Central imprint. It's set around the Christmas holidays in Australia. Detective Gemma Woods, who grew up in the small town where she still lives, has to investigate the sensational murder of the local drama and English teacher, who had recently moved back to the area. The case is complicated by the fact that Gemma had a lot of unhappy past history with the beautiful victim, as well as trying to work through the massive train-wreck of her personal life. That the train-wreck is largely of her own making doesn't help matters and she tries to work through her past trauma and not let her current situation negatively impact her work. Gemma is imperfect and it really works for the narrative that the author doesn't shy away from that.
Really beautifully written with palpable tension. The interplay between the spectacularly imperfect Gemma and the people around her is so deftly handled. The dialogue is perfectly written and never forced or wooden. I can't remember the last time I read a debut novel which was so polished and finished and enjoyably readable. I am a mystery thriller fanatic and really enjoyed the denouement and wrap-up. The clues and info are all there, and the payoff is well written and exciting.
The setting (a small rural town in Australia called Smithson) is well written and integral to the plotting. The fact that it's in the southern hemisphere means that they're heading into the hottest weather of the year, so there's also a danger of wildfires. The descriptions are so well written, it's easy to set yourself into the scenery.
The book is a hefty 440 pages (Kindle edition) but moves along at a good pace and didn't drag for me. I never lost my engagement with the book and finished it over the course of a few evenings. It's very unusual for me to read one book exclusively during my reading time (commute, during breaks during the day, pre-bedtime reading etc), and this one definitely captivated my attention during my spare time.
Definitely an author and series to watch.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher.