Bibliophile | Annie Seaton’s ‘East of Alice’ is a fascinating thriller

East of Alice
by Annie Seaton
Harper Collins

Annie Seaton likes to explore remote areas of Australia for story ideas and research. About 150 kms east of Alice Springs, at the far end of the East MacDonnell Ranges, lies Ruby Creek – an oasis shaded by white ghost gums and surrounded by red quartzite cliffs.

Ruby Gap was the site of the first mining rush in Central Australia in the 1880s, when people came to the area to find rubies and established a thriving town in the remote wilderness that was crossed by dry riverbeds.

In present times, Seaton’s heroine Gemma Hayden returns home to Alice Springs to teach at the Trephina Primary School on the eastern side of Alice, close to Ross Highway which leads out to the East MacDonnell Ranges. Her family has lived in the area for generations, with her great great-grandmother Rose marrying surveyor William Woodford and coming out to Ruby Gap to seek their fortune in the nineteenth century.

Now the land has been resumed by the National Park but the ruins of the original house, where Rose gave birth to two boys over a hundred and thirty years ago while her husband was prospecting, still remain.

National Park Ranger Saul Pearce has also returned to the Alice Springs and is renovating the family home after the death of his alcoholic father. He doesn’t know Gemma has returned to the town, but the two of them dated when they were younger, before he broke her heart by leaving the town.

Saul was the best friend of Gemma’s twin brother Ethan who had gone missing from the area six years ago, just after Saul had left. When Ethan’s rusted car is dislodged by flood waters and washed down the river to Ruby Gap, it is Park Ranger Saul who is sent to investigate.

Gemma always believed her brother was still alive and when Saul finds a coded note in the glove box addressed to Gemma, the two of them join forces to unravel, not only the mystery of what happened to Ethan, but what happened to Rose. The taut thriller is woven into the fascinating history of Ruby Gap.

Lezly Herbert

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