Current Issue #488

Holly Throsby's valley of shadows

Holly Throsby's valley of shadows

With her second novel Cedar Valley, author and songwriter Holly Throsby transports Adelaide’s Somerton Man mystery to a small town in New South Wales for a fascinating literary twist on the infamous cold case.

Throsby, an acclaimed singer/songwriter and member of Australian supergroup Seeker Lover Keeper, won much praise for her 2016 debut novel Goodwood about small town secrets set in the titular town. Her second novel is based just down the road from Goodwood in a town called Cedar Valley.

It’s 1993 and 21-year-old Benny Miller is dealing with the death of her enigmatic mother, Vivian, so she leaves Sydney for Cedar Valley after an invitation from a friend of her mother’s, the equally as mysterious Odette Fisher. Throsby, who grew up in Sydney, says she became attached to the region she created in Goodwood, which made her want to explore some of its surrounds for her follow-up novel.

“Instinctively, it just felt right to have a small town setting in the not too distant past, in the `90s, which is when I grew up,” Throsby says. “I wanted to explore that tension between the more positive and negative aspects of living in a small town. Goodwood is a more romanticised description and Cedar Valley has a lot of romanticism in it but, I think, there are slightly more suffocating elements explored in the book. As a person who’s recorded all of my albums in small town and country settings, and who has toured a lot in regional Australia, I locate a lot of my creative feeling with those places.”

In the book, the day Throsby’s protagonist Benny arrives in Cedar Valley

Holly Throsby's second novel Cedar Valley
Holly Throsby’s second novel Cedar Valley

coincides with another arrival, as a man dressed in a vintage suit with no identification is found dead in front of a local shop. The hallmarks of this mysterious death are eerily similar to that of the Somerton Man, the Adelaide cold case that has baffled and intrigued many for the last 70 years after a man was found dead on Somerton Beach in 1948 with no identification.

“I started Cedar Valley with the character of Benny and her quest to find out information about her mother,” Throsby says. “This was the initial story, the initial kernel, and the Somerton Man story kind of wove its way into my imagination.

“I’m really interested in Australian true crime, especially unsolved cases. I think they’re compelling for everybody; the nature of an unsolved case is that it raises so many fascinating questions. This particular case is so fantastic. And the more you delve into it, the more fantastic it becomes.”

The identity of the ‘Somerton Man’ gripped Adelaide in 1948, image: National Library of South Australia

Aside from the Somerton Man, Cedar Valley features other Adelaide connections, as Benny’s family originally hails from Adelaide and other local crimes, such as the disappearance of the Beaumont children, are mentioned. As a non-Adelaidean, Throsby believes Adelaide to be a city of contradictions: it is the city of churches and the city of bizarre crimes.

“It’s this really interesting place, it’s divorced from this quaint idea of Adelaide that a lot of people have, of wine regions, beaches and a wholesome look from the outside, but I find that really interesting. I find that cities full of contradictions are fertile grounds for novelists and writers.”

As a musician, Throsby released her long-awaited sixth album After a Time last year and with Sally Seltmann and Sarah Blasko, has written material for a new Seeker Lover Keeper album. Coincidentally, Seltmann released her debut novel Lovesome earlier this year.

“We enjoy discussing our work with each other,” Throsby says. “We understand each other in a way that enables us to talk freely about that process.”

Holly Throsby, Cedar Valley,
Allen & Unwin
Throsby will launch Cedar Valley
at Hawthorn Community Centre
on Wednesday, October 17

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