The Burning Island
by Jock Serong
Text Publishing, $32.99 pb, 348 pp
Criminal lawyer turned crime/thriller writer Jock Serong has produced five highly successful novels in as many years. His latest, The Burning Island, is probably his most ambitious to date. Set in 1830, it is part revenge tale, part mystery, part historical snapshot of the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait, in particular the relationship between European settlers and Indigenous women, who became their ‘island wives’, or tyereelore. It is also the moving story of a daughter’s devotion to her father, with a cracking denouement reminiscent of an Hercule Poirot mystery.
Like Serong’s last novel, Preservation (2018), The Burning Island is historical fiction, based on the true story of the disappearance in 1839 of the Britomart, a ship that departed Melbourne for Hobart carrying thirty passengers and cargo, but never arrived. She was presumed lost in Bass Strait, somewhere around the Furneaux Islands. There were rumours that she had been carrying a large amount of gold coins, to establish the first Tasmanian bank, and that lawless sealers had lured her to her ruin with false lights so that they could plunder her.