B. Michael Radburn's The Crossing: Cold Isolation


The Crossing (2011)
Author: B. Michael Radburn
Published by Pantera Press
336 pp

Glory’s Crossing in Tasmania is a place where time would normally stand still were it not for “progress” beating at its door. Generations of the town’s inhabitants find themselves displaced to make way for a hydroelectric dam. As a man-made lake encroaches upon them, submerging the town piece by piece, dark secrets are unleashed from beneath the water’s murky surface.

Such is the backdrop of The Crossing, a mystery with a hint of the supernatural. Author B. Michael Radburn weaves a tale of kidnapping, deception, and murder that is peppered with many intersecting themes. The conflicts range from dealing with the loss of a loved one, managing the subsequent unrelenting guilt, to finding oneself a stranger among neighbors. Utilizing the backdrop of the Tasmanian landscape, Radburn plants many disturbing discoveries in the island’s vast wilderness. Glory’s Crossing itself can be seen as a manifestation of the hopes and dreams of the residents, slowly consumed by ever encroaching civilization.

One year after his eight year old daughter Claire has disappeared after a car accident, our protagonist Taylor finds himself in the employ of the Parks & Wildlife office in untamed Tasmania. Plagued by bouts of sleepwalking and estranged from his wife Maggie, mainlander Taylor is now the keeper of the vast wilderness of The Crossing. Even though Taylor lives and works with the townsfolk, they aren’t particularly welcoming toward any they perceive as an outsider. Despite the resistance, Taylor tackles his assignment with a seriousness he hopes will win them over. On the outside looking in, he finds that the townsfolk are very close knit, perhaps to a fault. For Taylor, penetrating the tight ties of the community proves frustrating, and even a bit intimidating.

When a young girl goes missing, Taylor finds a chance at redemption for the overwhelming guilt he feels over his missing daughter. Perhaps by locating her, he can reclaim his life. In order to do so, he must work alongside an assorted cast of strange folks with names like “The Librarian” and “The Raggedy Man”, characters with their own darkened pasts. As the investigation uncovers a connection between several missing children and a potential serial killer, Taylor copes with uncooperative local sheriff O'Brien and the eccentric detective Grady. They race against time to find the girl before a dreadful fate befalls her.

Set in the harsh winter, Radburn creates a bleak environment for tragedy. Once the secrets begin pouring out, it’s clear that there are many guilty consciences in Glory’s Crossing. Taylor discovers that tampering with family secrets can be dangerous, but when an entire town shares such profound kinship, it can be deadly. Deception runs deep, and Taylor finds little to trust in the authorities, and his own sleep-deprived self. When a huge snowstorm hits The Crossing, we can’t help but feel the avalanche of frustration, fatigue, and remorse burying Taylor.

I have a few complaints with the novel, a big culprit being the dialogue. At times it felt a bit forced and unnatural. With a more natural or even minimal flow of conversation, the story may have been a bit more compelling. In a story that relies heavily on ordinary small town folk, it is quite a challenge to avoid having those characters sound scripted and cliche. This is especially important because The Crossing is very dialogue driven. On the other hand, it could be seen as Radburn’s attempt at making the characters feel familiar, like people we may recognize from our own hometowns. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me if that was his intended tactic.

I was also a bit turned off by some changes in tone after the introduction of Detective Grady, a confident, but oddball character that makes antiquing deals while performing his duties. While I appreciate the attempts at some quirky comic relief, it somewhat undermined the bleak atmosphere Radburn so expertly crafted. Considering the dark subject matter, perhaps he was trying to ward off despair in the audience. However, it took me completely out of the mood established in the first third of the book or so.

All that aside, mystery and crime fans should find something to latch onto while reading The Crossing. It's a quick read that tackles some heady themes. As one part character study, and another brutal crime mystery, it mostly succeeds in creating a sense of isolation and despair. The book showcases the threats of insular communities quite well. It also tackles the unresolved grief parents feel when a child goes missing. Once Taylor begins edging toward the frightening truth, we hope he's able to attain some form of closure in his personal life.