Book Review: Pheasants Nest by Louise Milligan

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, reviews Pheasants Nest - the gripping, propulsive and brilliantly original debut by award-winning investigative journalist and writer Louise Milligan.

Investigative reporter Milligan’s first novel (after two non-fiction books) is a nightmarish character study that really ratchets the suspense up and up (and up), even as a streak of terrible humour creeps in, here and there.

An award-winning journalist (just like Milligan, from the ABC’s 7.30 and Four Corners) named Kate Delaney is out drinking with friends in Melbourne one Saturday evening, but when she resists the sleazy advances of a stranger, he sexually assaults her, ties her up, and takes her on a trip over the New South Wales border, mostly because he doesn’t know what else to do. No supervillain or Hannibal Lecter type, the unnamed ‘The Guy’ is a bit of an idiot, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous, and Milligan allows us unfiltered access to what’s going on in his mind. And it’s not pretty.

However, this is (fortunately) mostly about Kate, who uses all her journalistic skills and experience to predict what’s soon to come, how to deal with it, and how best to escape – or just survive. Her interior thoughts are understandably more scattered, but as time passes, she thinks about her life and times up to this point, in elaborate and at times funny detail.

On their tail, of course, are her solicitor boyfriend Luke (who is naturally only now realising that he truly loves her) and her devoted bestie Sylvia, both of whom are on hand to clash with the cops on the case: tough Detective Sergeant John Dooley and the increasingly traumatised Peter D’Ambrosio. These two are frequently left baffled by ‘The Guy’ and his movements but, again, this is less to do with his ingenious criminal plans, and more just sheer luck.

Cleverly drawing on Milligan’s own experience with the ABC (and her time as High Court reporter for The Australian), this can occasionally feel like it has too many backstories and diversions, and yet Milligan needs them all to make the story work. And work it certainly does.

Scarily well.

Book Review: Pheasants Nest by Louise Milligan is publish by Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99 (paperback)

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