BOOK CLUB: The Stoning

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“The Stoning” by Peter Papathanasiou plays with your expectations of a crime novel, even as it uses many familiar tropes. I loved this; it’s a novel with layers that asks readers to take a hard look at some uncomfortable things.

In Cobb, a tiny town in Victoria so rural that it’s essentially the outback, Molly Abbott has been stoned to death. Apart from the horrific nature of the crime, Molly was youngish, pretty, well liked, and a kindergarten teacher.

It’s just the sort of crime that could become inconveniently high profile; not something the authorities want, with a detention centre in town. So Detective Sergeant George Manolis is despatched from Melbourne to help solve the crime.

Manolis doesn’t particularly want the job; he suspects it was handed to him because he was born in Cobb. But he and his parents left decades ago, and he barely remembers the town. And like most fictional detectives, he’s got plenty of personal problems to occupy him without a sensitive secondment.

This is one of the ways Papathanasiou uses familiar tropes while simultaneously diverging from them. Manolis has the full complement of problems: a wife who’s left him, a toddler son he doesn’t see enough of, a recently deceased father he’s mourning, and the occasional bout of racism aimed at him.

Unlike most fictional detectives, he’s not obsessing about these most of the time. They sit in the background, occasionally rising to the surface when triggered by other events. This makes Manolis much more real; he’s just realistically complicated. Mostly, Manolis is concerned with what’s in front of him: a vicious crime, and the challenges Cobb presents to an investigator.

Here again, Papathanasiou uses a familiar trope: a town hostile to outsiders. Yet again he takes this in an unexpected direction. The sexism and harassment aimed at the sole female police officer are shocking, as is the violence directed at the young Indigenous police officer. This town doesn’t just reject physical outsiders: it rejects lifelong residents who don’t fit the narrow set of biases that define the “right” sort of person. Manolis, both a physical outsider and one whose Greek heritage makes him visibly different, is particularly objectionable.

Finally, there’s the investigation. We’re all familiar with a good police investigation: the tight procedures that govern them. To find ourselves in a small town with few resources, little concern about following procedures, limited interest in doing things properly, and a very low care factor about all these failures is quite shocking. Our expectation of a dedicated detective working through a set series of actions to find the murderer is subverted; Manolis tries, but he just… can’t. Procedure is out the window.

So we think we know what we’re in for, and Papathanasiou regularly subverts it. The skeleton of a classic crime story is here and provides the impetus for the plot. But much of the flesh of the story is unexpected and challenging.
Readers are asked to confront their own prejudices.

How do you make judgements about people? How much is preconceived, how much is gossip, how much is misinformation? Do you think someone is automatically wrong if they don’t do what you think they should? There are plenty of judgements in here, about refugees, women, migrants, Indigenous people. Some will seem shocking to a reader who considers themself unprejudiced, and yet this is very real.

If the novel has a flaw, it’s that Molly Abbott never really comes to life. As the investigation proceeds, we find out more about her. But for me, she never became a fully rounded character. I prefer novels where the victim feels like a real person, not a prop. However, there’s a lot going on in the novel, and many readers will be too absorbed in that, and in the mystery of Molly’s death, to worry about her life.

Despite dealing with a lot of challenging issues, and being quite dark in places, this is easy to read. It’s not an overly long novel, and the writing style absorbs you so thoroughly that pages zip by.

This is a challenging novel that confronts multiple forms of prejudice and prods the reader in sometimes uncomfortable places. There’s a solid crime plot in here too, but for me, the social commentary and subversion of popular tropes were what really made this novel outstanding.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and both crime readers and readers interested in social commentary wrapped in a good story should too.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Stoning by Peter Papathanasiou. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

8 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Stoning

  1. Thank you Beauty and Lace for giving me the opportunity to read this fantastic book. It was a great read, I had trouble putting it down. Such an interesting story.

  2. Detective Manolis returns to his home town of Cobb to investigate the brutal murder of the local primary school teacher, Molly.
    Cobb is not a pleasant town to be in, the locals spend all of their time and money at the local pubs(one for white people and one for black), including the on duty police officers!
    Crime, racism and discrimination run rampant in this isolated, dilapidated town.
    This book gives an interesting if not dark and depressing insight in to this neglected community.
    With a twist at the end it’ll keep you guessing all the way through!
    Thanks to Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this book.

  3. The Stoning by Peter Papathanasiou was so exciting.
    Detective George Manolis is called to investigate a murder in Cobb a small Australian town which was his home town when he was a child. It is almost unrecognisable to him now.
    The popular, local school teacher Molly Abbott has been brutally murdered and the whole town has their own ideas as to who has been responsible for the crime.
    George is not welcomed by the locals mainly because he’s from the city and they treat him with suspicion.
    There is now a detention centre in the town and conflict is rife, many of the locals blame it for tension in the community.
    Thankyou Beautyandlace and the publisher for such an absorbing read, I really enjoyed it.

  4. Apologies for the delayed post, I was sitting on the edge of my seat reading this book whenever i had time.

    Tied to a tree, teacher Molly was surrounded by blood stained stones, battered and dented. The local police quickly gathered evidence and removed her damaged body. But this death was just too much for the local police.
    Join Detective Manolis as he heads out to the dying town of Cobb to investigate the horrific stoning death.
    The towns people seem to be floundering and lost, drunk or drugged and blaming the “town saving” detention centre for illegal immigrants. And this includes the local police.
    The immigrant centre, the brown house, is its own little town, internally regulated and controlled by ex armed forces Mr Onions. Leading his band of guards to manage and control his environment, but to what end??
    Little evidence, minimal formality, under manned, this story will have you guessing to the end. On more than one level.

    Thanks Beauty & Lace and Peter Papathanasiou for a read that had me intrigued, frustrated, impressed and disgusted all in one. It was a read i thoroughly enjoyed and longed to lock myself away to finish and find the answers!

  5. Now this I could not stop and put down. Of late I’ve struggled with getting into a good book but The Stoning by Peter Papathanasiou was a well written and plot twisting read.

    The story kicks right off with the murder of a local teacher brutally and very undeserving. The local police are under equiped and overwhelmed and fumble their way in the investigation. Outside law enforcement is brought in Detective Manolis, the town are up in arms for the invasion, even though he used to be one of them.

    As the story unfolds the history shines throughout the pages, griping read and you just need to read it yourself to understand!!!

    Get it now!!!!

    The Stoning by Peter Papathanasiou

  6. Peter Papathanasiou’s The Stoning is a fabulous offering in the rural crime noir genre. Although very confronting in the opening scenes, the story soon hooks the reader in. Detective George Manolis returns to the town of his childhood but soon discovers big changes in the town and the community. And an unthinkable crime which divides the townspeople who have numerous conflicting theories on who did it. The book tackles theme of illegal immigrants and immigration, racism, multiculturalism and misogyny. The mystery and tension builds right to the end. Highly recommend and I look forward to more from Peter Papathasiou.

    Many thanks to Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read and review The Stoning

  7. Thank you, Beauty & Lace, for giving me the opportunity to read and review The Stoning by Peter Papathanasiou …. A new author to me, an author that I’m exceptionally grateful to have been introduced to now, as this novel is realistically gritty, raw and packed with prejudices, misogyny, racism, while stirring in some on-trend social issues of immigration, paedophilia, sexism, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, all set in a small outback Australian town.
    The small outback town of Cobb reminds me of everything wrong with our society and shows a scary insight into what the World would look like under more of Trump being in office…. A reason he MUST be kept out!
    The story is based on the discovery of a woman one morning in the town of Cobb, who has been gaffer-taped to a tree and stoned to death. Enter Detective Manolis, a past inhabitant of Cobb, sent from the city to solve the grisly murder. But he is up against an inept police force and a town that is falling apart. We get to delve into the injustices heaped onto the Aboriginals and the refugees. Reading stories of refugees and what they were escaping, to the mistreatment of our countries indigenous. I love the political thread that snaked its way through this story.
    A fantastic read with an ending that will surprise.

  8. This book has very strong Jane Harper vibes being set in outback Australia. The town of Cobb is depressing and crime rampant. I felt like the murder is an aside and Peter Papathanasiou was really painting a picture of the terrible situation asylum seekers are facing in Australia today. The privatisation of detention centres, the Federal Government’s lack of transparency and just general lack of care for small outback Aussie towns are all brought to light in this book. Lots to think about after finishing the last page, including poor Molly.

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