The Missing Girl

Author: Kerry McGinnis

Publisher/Year: Viking an imprint of Penguin

Publisher description: Penguin/2021

The darkest secrets are buried the deepest.

Meg Morrissey has just lost her job, and her partner to an overseas assignment, when she is called back to the family home of Hunters Reach in the picturesque Adelaide Hills. Her ailing grandmother, who raised her when she was orphaned as a child, has always been a formidable figure in her life, and this is hardly a welcome summons.

When Meg arrives at the ramshackle old homestead, she learns that the place is up for sale. She is expected to care for the property with its extensive garden, while packing up the contents of the house. As she begins the arduous work of bringing the grand old homestead back to its former glory, she is forced to examine the question that has plagued her all her life – why nobody loved her as a child.

As the house unfolds the history of an earlier age, it also spills out secrets Meg had never imagined – in particular, the discovery of an aunt she never knew, her mother’s twin sister, Iris. The discovery brings horror in its wake, as Meg learns the secrets of the missing girl and the truth behind a wicked heart where love simply never existed. The more she uncovers, the more questions she has. With her grandmother unwilling to share what she knows, Meg must seek out the truth for herself.

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Australian bush in summer, with the ever-present threat of bushfire at its back, this is a highly evocative story of secrets and betrayal from the bestselling author of Croc Country.

Reviewer: Moraig Kisler

Kerry McGinnis’s latest novel The Missing Girl is a terrific little read, laced with gothic elements: a mysterious disappearance, secret compartments, hidden identities, betrayals and lies. And, of course, there’s always McGinnis’s trademark lick of romance.

When Meg Morrisey is summoned to prepare her grandmother’s country homestead Hunter’s Reach for sale, the two women’s fraught relationship is reborn. Meg, who was raised by her grandmother after her parents’ death, has never experienced love from neither her grandmother nor her distant parents. Her return to Hunters Reach is traumatic and dredges up bitter memories and feelings of inadequacy.

The Missing Girl is peppered with interesting characters. Meg’s relationship with her bedridden harpy of a grandmother is a blend of resentment and duty, also mirrored in Meg’s relationship with her grandmother’s cat Claude (fittingly named). The grandmother’s neighbour Betty who made Meg’s childhood returns to Hunter’s Reach at least endurable is a delightful character. Then there’s surly Jake Lynch, the handyman hired to help Meg clean up the property: a man of few words with a shady past and a surprising future.

Hunter’s Reach is buried beneath layers of neglect and as Meg works to rediscover its hidden grandeur, she also reveals a not-so-grand family history. The restoration of the homestead is an apt metaphor for unearthing deadly secrets. Meg gradually peels away layers of fabrication until the truth lies glistening like a gemstone in the sun. At the same time, she sloughs away the skin of personal history and emerges a strong and confident woman.

McGinnis’s previous occupation as a gardener comes to the fore in The Missing Girl. The story is set in mid-summer amidst the tinderbox conditions of the Adelaide Hills. The description of the bushfire sweeping towards Meg and her friends is terrifying. It’s not just the landscape that is threatened but Meg’s sense of family and identity.

The Missing Girl is a is a story full of twists and turns, and fans of McGinnis and readers who enjoy unravelling family secrets won’t be disappointed.