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Posted on 18 Apr 2024 in Crime Scene, Fiction |

AOIFE CLIFFORD It Takes A Town. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

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In Aoife Clifford’s third novel, the death of a local celebrity brings two old schoolmates together to answer some troubling questions.

In a small town, news spreads, and in this particular small town – Welcome by name, though not always by nature – glamorous Vanessa Walton was a phenomenon:

Vanessa Walton was no longer singing on a rickety stage in a middle-sized country town; she was a star, a giant supernova, and everyone in that room was spinning helplessly in her orbit.

Which begs a lot of questions about why she ended up as she did:

The body lay at the bottom of the stairs in a geometric-patterned dressing-gown, kimono-shaped. A red silk nightie, slippery as water, had bunched up under her middle, exposing her legs.

The night that Walton died there had been a wild storm, and there are hints the storm could have caused an accident. It looks for all the world like Vanessa has fallen down the stairs, but there’s a nosy neighbour with observations to make, and sinister anonymous threats are discovered nearby.

Turns out that Sergeant Carole Duffy, flying into a town that’s effectively cut off after the storm, is not the only one asking lots of questions.

It was raining on the tarmac when they took off. Iron clouds were still sulking over the mountains and the helicopter lurched and bucked, buffeted by the wind, while the pilot pressed buttons and talked. It was equal parts smart attitude and chewing gum. …

Day one in her new job was already a natural disaster

This feeling isn’t helped by having to share her helicopter dash into town with local politician Barton Langridge.

… the local member for Welcome had the sort of face you instantly wanted to punch, even if you knew nothing about him and his statements about ‘crazy lefties’, ‘Marxist teachers’ and ‘taking Australian jobs’.

Vanessa Walton had grown up in Welcome and found fame in an ad for Sugar Snap biscuits and the very popular TV variety show Shining Stars. The local hall has a sign out the front proudly proclaiming the connection – ‘Walton’s Academy of Dance – Home of Baby Vee’ – and she’s just performed a fundraising show for a local kid battling illness. On the face of it, Vanessa was a very big fish in a not-so-big pond.

The full title of the novel, It Takes A Town … to solve a murder, is a reference to how locals, particularly two old schoolmates of Walton’s, know the right questions to ask and who they should be asking and what, in most cases, the likely ramifications will be of a bit of pointed digging.

Frankie Birnam is one of those people you find in lots of country towns: a lifelong resident, wife of Joe, mother of two boys, daughter of Des, lifelong friend of Mer. Mer, on the other hand, is a single mother, local swim champion, less conventional than her friend, and much more willing to take risks.

There had been a missing relief teacher, and instead of going to the library, Vanessa, Mer and Frankie had stolen out of the school grounds and mucked around down at the river. …

They had been caught on their return and given detention. …

[Mer’s] friendship with Frankie was the best thing to have come out of that detention and puzzled the school, the town and especially Frankie’s mother, Alice. There was nothing that Mer wouldn’t do for Frankie Birnam.

Unfortunately, the questions that nobody really homes in on until it’s nearly too late are why there are so many frightened schoolgirls around, and what the connection is between 16-year-old Jasmine Landridge, her confident assertions that Walton was murdered, and Jasmine’s disappearance. All of which is complicated by Jasmine’s stepfather being the Barton Langridge, scion of the local family, property developer and local MP. A man who demands respect, has a very obvious stick in a painful place, and quite a few things he’d rather keep hidden. Although, to be fair, there are a lot of people in Welcome with things that they’d rather stay hidden.

There are a lot of characters in It Takes A Town. Readers could be forgiven for feeling the entire place should get a supporting cast credit, and they will find themselves having to pay attention in the early parts of the novel as names, situations, connections and backgrounds arrive in rapid fire. Which reflects very astutely the feeling of moving to a small town and trying to work out who is who, who’s related to who and, most importantly, what side everyone’s on.

It’s not a difficult undertaking to immerse yourself in the world of Welcome, though. Frankie’s a great character – put upon, ridiculously busy, inclined to react rather than plot and plan. Mer’s got plenty of stuff going on as well, although that’s less busy, and more tricky to navigate. In the middle of all of that is a police investigation led by the determined – despite being buffeted by the complications – Carole Duffy. Her interactions with the locals telegraph everything from enlightenment to deep and abiding confusion.

It Takes a Town is very much a novel about women, but not necessarily written just for a female audience. The perspective is really interesting, and a particularly nice touch, given how many small rural towns live and die based on the efforts of their female inhabitants.

While you’d really hope that crimes aren’t the norm in small communities, they most definitely figure in all communities. The difference here is the intensity of the lens – where there are fewer diversions, the past and present, mistakes and missteps have lasting implications for everyone.

Aoife Clifford It Takes A Town … to solve a murder Ultimo Press 2024 PB 352pp $34.99

Karen Chisholm blogs from, where she posts book reviews as well as author biographies.

You can buy It Takes A Town from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW or you can buy it from Booktopia.

You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.

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