#TasmanianLitMonth: – Tasmanian Crime and Mystery Fiction, Part 1

Written by author and literary festival director L.J.M. Owen

The Eternal Reader’s Problem

“It was a beautiful, clear morning – the mist that at early dawn, had been overhanging the summit of Mount Wellington, had gradually disappeared, exhibiting its rough and towering majesty in all its splendour; and I was doubting in my mind, whether I should ride, walk, go upon the water, or lounge upon my sofa, read a novel, and sip lemonade, when a friend called, saying he must have my company to pay a visit or two…”

This is a quote from a letter to the editor that I found in a local newspaper, The Hobart Town Courier, from 1829. It tells us that little has changed across the centuries:  the inhabitants of Tasmania, this little island state on the edge of the world, love to read.

It also reminds us that no matter how much we might want to curl up with a good book, there have always been people who interrupt our reading time.

Australian fiction began with Tasmanian crime fiction

The first Australian novel was published the year after the above reader’s lament appeared in the paper. In 1830, Henry Savery’s Quintus Servinton, a three-volume work based very loosely upon real events, was released in Hobart Town—the capital of Tasmania.

It was a crime novel.

Not only was Tasmania the first state in Australia to boast a published book, Australia’s first novel was a Tasmanian crime novel.

It set a great precedent.

Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, visits Tasmania

A century later, Agatha Christie, the undisputed queen of crime and mystery lovers, visited Tasmania as part of her world tour. She loved it so much here that she hoped to move here one day.

Of her 1922 travels, Agatha wrote:

“From Australia we went to Tasmania, driving from Launceston to Hobart. Incredibly beautiful Hobart, with its deep blue sea and harbour, and its flowers, trees and shrubs. I planned to come back and live there one day.”

[It’s important to note here, good reader, that Tasmania is a part of Australia. At least, that is the official position].

A Thriving Genre

When Agatha visited Hobart in 1922, Tasmania already had its own nationally-famous Tasmanian-born mystery writer:  Hilda Bridges.

That same week, another chapter in one of Hilda’s serials, The House of Shadows, was published. It’s nice to imagine that the two budding crime writers bumped elbows at the British Empire exhibition that Agatha had come here to see.

Tasmanian readers started out as they meant to go on. In 2022, the top ten most borrowed adult fiction books from Libraries Tasmania were all works of crime, mystery and suspense.

And the most popular writer in the lists who has written three crime and mystery books set in Tasmania?

Sarah Barrie.

Deadman’s Track by Sarah Barrie

Sarah is the author of nine novels, including her Tasmanian-set Calico Mountain trilogy. While the three books are set in the same location, they can be read as standalones. The third in the trilogy is Deadman’s Track.

The novel begins with Tess Atherton, scarred by a recent tragedy on Federation Peak, reluctantly guiding a group of young hikers through a wild Tasmanian winter. Things go downhill from there, with a serial killer on the loose, hunting both Tess and a senior detective who is desperate to protect her.

One reviewer, Nicola Moriarty, said that reading this book “…made me desperate to visit Tasmania and simultaneously terrified of ever stepping foot there. I loved every moment.” This is a sentiment often repeated about Tasmanian crime fiction.

If you’d like to try a recent, popular, available crime novel set in Tasmania, Deadman’s Track could be the right book for you.

Book Details

  • Deadman’s Track by Sarah Barrie
  • ISBN: 9781489255310
  • ISBN 10: 1489255311
  • Imprint: HQ Fiction AU
  • On Sale: 08/07/2020
  • Pages: 416
  • BISAC1: FICTION / Thrillers / Suspense

About DR. LJ.M Owen

DR L.J.M. OWEN escaped dark days as a public servant for a sunnier profession—inventing murder.

A multi-award winning writer, L.J.’s novels include the chilling Tasmanian-set The Great Divide (2019), longlisted for the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Award, and three books in the Dr. Pimms archaeological mystery series:  Egyptian Enigma (2018), Mayan Mendacity (2016), and Olmec Obituary (2015). She is the commissioning editor for the forthcoming Tasmanian anthology, Murder You Wrote:  An Interactive Mystery (2023).

In 2019, L.J. founded the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival (TARWF), Australia’s southern-most literary festival. L.J. is the current Director of TARWF, the Convenor of TARWF’s annual Children’s Mystery Short Story Competition, and the Convenor of the Tasmanian branch of Sisters in Crime Australia.

I would like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land, the Palawa people of Tasmania, and to their Elders, past, present, and emerging. I acknowledge their deep spiritual connection to the land and their ongoing contributions to the culture of this nation.  

About guest curator, Bec Taylor

I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.  

Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.

I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators. 

Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary

The educational hills I will die on are:

  • a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
  • there is serious magic in reading aloud,
  • and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.

*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.

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