Books

Tania Chandler
Please Don’t Leave Me Here

One passage succinctly sums up Please Don’t Leave Me Here, the debut novel by Melbourne-based writer Tania Chandler. Brigitte, the dubious heroine who was tangled up in a gruesome murder some 14 years ago, is dreaming of a man with a snake tattoo:

The serpent tattoo on his back breathes as he breathes; blue-and-green scales rise and fall with every inhalation and exhalation. She reaches out to touch it, but it slithers away as he rolls over and curls into a foetal position. Soft light, a silver mist on his dirty-blond hair. Sam? It’s not Sam. But somebody familiar. It’s… Kurt Cobain.

Please Don’t Leave Me Here is marketed as a psychological thriller, but far too often it inadvertently descends into silly twists and ham-fisted horror. This is less Stephen King and more Desperate Housewives.

It kicks off with seeming domestic bliss in Melbourne, with Brigitte, her detective husband, Sam, and their small twin children. But life is unravelling fast. A cold murder case has been reopened, and Brigitte is at the centre of the investigation. Wind back to 1994 and the Friday before Christmas. As a young woman, Brigitte is mowed down by a hit-and-run driver. The same day a man is discovered in her apartment, brutally beaten to death, but she says she has no memory of either event. When Sam looks into the murder he takes the vulnerable and lost Brigitte under his wing and marries her; now, years later, it seems she cannot hide from the past forever.

Ominous things start happening. Kitty, the pet ginger cat, gets run over and dies. Brigitte’s daughter Phoebe starts to babble about “lost” babies who haunt their home. And Aidan, a handsome police officer, moves in with the family, ostensibly because his marriage is broken down – only for Brigitte to find out he is investigating the case and possibly her too.

Regrettably, what might have been an intriguing plot descends into farce. The book tackles big issues, including drug abuse, grieving, adultery and police corruption. But when Brigitte, an alcoholic, is asked whether anyone has told her that she drinks like a man, she replies:

“You know, I think somebody did tell me that once.” She laughs and looks out the window at the deserted street. “A long time ago.”

Please Don’t Leave Me Here is dedicated to Kurt Cobain, whose dreamlike image is confusingly threaded through the story. But not even the dead rocker can save this novel from such trite platitudes.  EA

Scribe, 304pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 15, 2015 as "Tania Chandler, Please Don’t Leave Me Here ". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: EA