'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 12 June 2020

Review: The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #1: The Ghost of Howlers Beach

It is 1932. School holidays are dead boring. Butter is lonely and longs for something exciting to happen. And it does. When a three-legged dog digs up a skull on the beach, Butter takes it home to his dad.

Twelve year old Butter O’Bryan lives in a Very Small Castle close to the sea, built by his grandfather, one of the Jam Kings. HHe shares his life with his dad, the local GP and his three Aunts - Elephant, Cake and Peculiar. They are singular beings, as unusual as their names, modified from the originals during their brother’s early childhood speech to remain so over time.

Butter’s mother has died from Polio in the epidemic that rages through post-war Australia. Dad, being unable to save her, blames himself. Withdrawn and quiet, he none-the-less nurtures a warm, loving and generous family atmosphere.

A susso camp has slowly increased in size on the O’Bryan land. Poverty stricken families of the Great Depression have built shacks from driftwood and anything found or brought in by the tide. It is another battle; one for survival. Dr O’Bryan, compassionate and grateful for his privileged life, allows them to remain there unchallenged.

Butter (he won’t reveal his real name) encounters three children on the beach playing cricket.  Gil, Olive and Tish, are the owners of the three-legged dog. They are secretive and hostile towards him and disappear without a trace.

When the children’s Uncle dies on the O’Bryan doorstep where he goes for medical attention, Butter is determined to find out the backstory of his life and track the children down. Imaginative, curious and questioning, he also wants to know about the skull; how and why it came to be buried where he found it.

An elusive mystery unfolds around these happenings. Jackie French builds another riveting read using the hardships and poverty of the Depression years as background for this marvellous part mystery, part adventure.

The reader is drawn into the scenes; becomes part of the action. Information about the era’s society and the social structures pour into the excellent storyline and prose.

French’s mastery of historical fiction rules. She picks a time and place in Australian history, adds an incident and builds a story with a cast of outstanding characters around it that informs, educates and entertains.  I can’t wait for the next book; I long to learn what happens next with these characters.

Title: The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #1: The Ghost of Howlers Beach
Author: Jackie French
Publisher: HarperCollins, $16.99
Publication Date: 24 February 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781460757727
For ages: 10+
Type: Historical Fiction