First published in 1962, this mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie's The Unexpected Guest from Australian Carlon (Death by Demonstration) still packs a punch. The aftermath of a fire in the outback reveals the body of a "swaggie," or drifter, with whom nurse Linda Condrick had spoken only a short time before. Certain locals overheard their conversation, and as soon as the fire is ruled out as the victim's cause of death, tongues start to wag. Linda has come to Leumeah Valley, a hard-earned, hard-working sheep station, to care for the Forst family matriarch. Soon after, grandson Gregory Forst decides to make Linda the new mistress of Leumeah. When old Mrs. Forst passes on, she leaves her entire estate to Gregory. The rest of the family, who've spent their lives sponging from Mrs. Forst, react like circling carnivores, and Linda is soon the focus of everyone's suspicions except Gregory and teenager Rowena Searle. Rowena, who'd come to live with the Forsts after her parents' death, is Gregory's only support as they valiantly defend Linda from the rest of the pack. When Inspector Quince comes out to investigate, he keeps Rowena close at hand and uses her well-known skill of eavesdropping. What does anyone really know about this Linda Condrick person? Prior to her appearance as a nurse, she seems to have had no existence at all. Why has she really come to Leumeah Valley? Carlon has masterfully put together a suspenseful read that will keep you guessing and misguessing right up to the last page.
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Carlon's thrillers, originally published in Australia in the 1960s, have been appearing in the U.S. for the last several years. Her crisp prose, deliciously complex puzzles, and well-drawn characters have traveled well across both decades and continents. Told mostly from the point of view of 16-year-old Rowena Searle, this one concerns the Forst family and the stranger, Linda Condrick, who has disrupted their lives. Engaged to marry Gregory Forst, grandson of wealthy landowner Ella Forst, Linda is a coolly confident diva who scoffs at the greedy, petty family. When matriarch Ella died, she left everything to grandson Gregory, forcing the other Forsts to hope for his charity. The various family members--and narrator Rowena, who was taken in by Ella--are threatened by Linda, who makes her intentions to cut them off quite clear. This isn't the best of the recent spate of Carlon novels--keeping track of the Forst family tree is a burden throughout--but Linda proves a fascinating character, and the outback setting is vividly portrayed. Jenny McLarin
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