Bantam, $32.95, 376 pp
‘You can say a lot more in fiction than you can say in the paper,’ Caroline Overington, journalist and author of two non-fiction books, has remarked of her decision to write a novel. In Ghost Child, she uses this extra scope to consider difficult questions often overlooked in the fast-moving news cycle.
In 1982, police are called to a housing estate in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. A five-year-old boy, Jacob Cashman, is unconscious, having been robbed and beaten, his mother tells them, on his way to the corner shop with his younger brother. A familiar scene unfolds: tearful public pleas for information, tabloid headlines, fear and outrage – until, inexorably, holes and inconsistencies emerge, the community’s sympathy turns to doubt and anger, and the mother and her boy-friend are charged with Jacob’s assault. Much is outlined in the first two pages: though the details of the crime are obscured by gossip and foggy memories, this is never a whodunit. Instead, the plot explores the fallout over the following two decades, as Jacob’s three siblings make their separate ways through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.