From the moment you set eyes on Jennifer Walsh’s new book, it’s a safe bet you’ll be seriously tempted to pick it up. The cover design – in foreboding sepia tones – is a reader-magnet: an old haunted house in the moonlight, set against a back-drop of omen-heavy clouds and the silhouettes of four young people in a shadowy tunnel. After you turn over to the back cover blurb your fate is likely to be sealed. How could you possibly return this book to the shelf and resist being lured by the mention of secret passageways in an abandoned mansion, a hidden box of documents and lurking figures who watch every move the protagonists make? It’s a recipe for adventure; albeit a recipe that has a familiar ring to it.
In true Enid Blyton style, from the opening sequence, Walsh sets out to enthral her readers with a plot that has as many twists and turns as the secret tunnels and passageways under Tarcoola mansion. Kitty, with her brother Martin, and friends Andrea and David, happen upon a tunnel at the base of a cliff one day during a particularly low tide; the entrance is in the middle of a circle of rocks –‘the doughnut’ – which is normally covered by water. Their adventure begins when they decide to explore the tunnel and find it leads to a secret passageway under Tarcoola mansion. As the story unravels, the four unwittingly become submerged in a mystery that thrusts them into a search for a hidden treasure and a race to prevent Tarcoola being razed by property developers to make way for apartment buildings. When some of them are threatened by the developer’s henchmen, and Kitty and Andrea visit an old woman in the local nursing home, the four discover there is enough at stake to warrant risking their lives.
Though Walsh writes to a formula, she does so successfully. Her prose is tight and engaging and her characters believable. Written in the third person from multiple viewpoints, Walsh gradually brings to light the underlying issues each of the four protagonists must deal with in their personal lives; the complexity of the nature of their relationships is revealed as the story unfolds, rounding out her characterisation with warmth and verisimilitude.
The Tunnels of Tarcoola is a well-paced page-turner. Clever use of foreshadowing and withholding of detail add to the allure of this captivating adventure story. Intrigue, suspense and tension are metered out skilfully to make this a most enjoyable and engaging read. Highly recommended.
Allen & Unwin 2012