The Lost Swimmer
The Lost Swimmer, the debut novel by Adelaide-born screenwriter Ann Turner, is a whodunnit thriller that begins slowly (very slowly) in Australia then races across Europe. The protagonist, Rebecca Wilding, is an archaeology professor struggling with budget cuts, the pressure to publish and a vindictive faculty dean. She’s also under investigation for allegedly defrauding university funds through secret Greek bank accounts. At home, Rebecca’s adult children are wrapped up in their own lives and she suspects her husband, Stephen, is having an affair.
This first, scene-setting third of the book drags on longer than it should and begins to feel more Days of Our Lives than P. D. James. And some of the “evidence” of Stephen’s suspected infidelity feels a little tired and unconvincing – is a man talking to another woman at a party really grounds for suspicion? The villainous dean and the narcissistic girlfriend of Rebecca’s son are also a little too easy to hate, which feels unchallenging and unpersuasive.
Rebecca and Stephen soon holiday in Europe where the plot picks up pace. Helped by two of the most lively characters in the book – fellow researchers Burton and Maria – Rebecca uncovers more detail about the alleged fraud. Then Stephen disappears. Italian police suspect Rebecca has murdered him.
With the fraud investigation also turning against her, Rebecca becomes a fugitive, determined to clear her name and track down her missing husband. The final third of the book happens in a blur, a relief from the slow-going early chapters. And yes, there are welcome plot twists.
As a whodunnit, The Lost Swimmer is a good book: there are multiple mysteries and Turner is adept at disguising who is behind them until the very end. But as an emotional journey, parts of the book are not exactly pushing boundaries. Jealousy imbues many of the relationships between men and women in this story, which seemed a little immature. There’s also a lot of telling rather than showing – Turner can’t help but narrate events (often via italicised internal monologues) that really should be allowed to speak for themselves. And the reader is robbed of potentially satisfying “aha” moments – for example, it’s pointed out, repeatedly, that as an archaeologist Rebecca must use fragments of evidence to unpack a story, just as she is being forced to do in her life. Readers would likely prefer to make that connection themselves. LL
Simon & Schuster, 368pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 13, 2015 as "Ann Turner, The Lost Swimmer ". Subscribe here.