Author: Rachael Johns
Outback Blaze takes us back to the small town of Bunyip Bay, home of Faith and Monty from Outback Dreams. I love reading Rachael’s work so am always excited to see a new release and sink my teeth in but this one, this one really grabbed me because one of the characters shares a name (and spelling) with my latest addition so that made me all excited after having thought we had gone unusual. But I digress….
Bunyip Bay has moved on from the Barking Ball, a fundraiser for Dogs for Autism, and is gearing up for the annual Undies Run. Faith and Monty have moved away from Bunyip Bay, and Ruby is feeling their distance as they were the first friends she made. For those of you who loved Faith and Monty, as I did, never fear – they return to Bunyip for the Undies Run and a visit.
Rachael has added a completely new element in Outback Blaze and created a suspenseful storyline after the AG Store is gutted by a deliberately lit fire. The small community band together in support of the owners, until the prime suspects for the arson are cleared and no-one knows where to cast their suspicions.
The main characters in Outback Blaze are both relative newcomers to town. Ruby has been back for less than a year after a bad break up and is working in the AG Store owned by her parents. Drew is the English policeman on a short term posting. Neither of these characters are looking at settling down to a long term future in Bunyip Bay and it takes most of the book for us to discover why.
We met both Ruby and Drew in Outback Dreams and saw enough of them to become intrigued by their stories but learned very little about their back stories. Outback Blaze raised more questions about their pasts before it started answering any and it served only to make their characters more interesting.
Investigations into the arson at the AG Store see Drew and Ruby spending time together, though not on a personal level, and though it is completely inappropriate given the circumstances the two find sparks of a different kind flying. Sparks neither of them were looking for, and in Ruby’s case feared may never be felt again.
Drew was only planning to be in Bunyip Bay for a short time, seeking an anonymous small town life far away from everything he knew before, so forming attachments was never part of the plan.
Ruby has been scarred by the past she’s running from, sceptical of ever believing in love again. She has moved to Bunyip Bay to build a horse-riding business and be close to her parents, to surround herself in their love and the security they provide.
One thing I really love about Rachael’s books is the letter she writes to her readers before the story starts, telling us a little about her inspiration for the story. Outback Blaze is all about the sense of community in small towns and how everyone bands together in times of need, but this time with a twist – what happens when there is an arsonist in the mix. What happens to that sense of community when the sense of trust in your neighbours is questioned? I too live in a small town, not quite as small as I envision Bunyip Bay and not a farming community but enough similarities for me to understand the unfolding of events. Of course the finger is first pointed at local teens who have recently been running a little wild because where else would you point the finger than at the bored teens recently caught playing with fire. Many people refuse to look past that. They were caught with fire, a fire was lit hence they must have lit the fire. So when their alibi checks out and they are cleared that leaves the owners as the likeliest suspects, and what does that do to community spirit…. it doesn’t take much of an imagination to come close. Rachael has dealt with this very realistically and there weren’t many surprises in the reactions of Bunyip Bay residents.
That is not to say that the arson storyline was predictable because it wasn’t. For her first foray into suspense Rachael has done a fantastic job of laying down multiple red herrings to keep the suspense alive and I wouldn’t have picked it.
Ruby and Drew, it was interesting to see their interaction as they were almost on opposite sides of the investigation and I loved the first thing they discovered they had in common – but I’m not going to tell you what it was. I think it’s very sweet, and though uncommon it’s certainly not unheard of because my parents share the same similarity. Watching their attraction war with what they could both recognise as a possible conflict of interest kept me guessing because I kept wondering when they were going to be questioned about it, or when Drew’s love of the badge was going to overrule his libido.
Another gripping story by Rachael Johns that has left me eagerly anticipating the next Bunyip Bay story, which is not to be the one I had thought early in Outback Blaze would be next – the chances of that one coming were quite succinctly smothered by events later in the book. This is definitely another I will be recommending to everyone I know that likes a good romance – and who can resist the charming Drew Noble pictured on the cover. I would buy these books just for their covers.