Standing in line for an exhibit on the life of novelist, Inga Karlsson, Caddie Walker meets a mysterious woman who appears to know more about Karlsson and her famous lost work than anyone could possibly know. Caddie, a Karlsson devotee, becomes obsessed with finding out who this woman is, and if it’s possible that she may be the only person alive who has read Karlsson’s manuscript, The Days, the Minutes, which was destroyed in the same 1939 warehouse fire that killed its author and her publisher. Her quest for answers will bring her much more than she bargained for, and it drags Caddie back into a murky area of academia that she thought she’d left behind her years ago.
The Fragments is the fifth novel from Australian writer Toni Jordan, whose books have been delighting readers across a number of genres since her debut, Addition in 2008. Since then, Jordan has published contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and even a comedic ‘bedroom’ farce, all of which have been warmly received by her growing readership. The Fragments is Jordan’s second historical novel since the award-winning Nine Days.
Fans will not be disappointed. Told between two timelines, one in the late 1930s and one in 1986, the novel sets out to unravel the mystery surrounding the Karlsson murder and the destroyed manuscript. While Caddie’s interest lies solely in working out whether the enigmatic Rachel has actually read ‘The Days, the Minutes’, her investigation soon leads her down the path of solving Karlsson’s murder, and her research in a climate of heightened Karlsson speculation, could be worth a fortune.
Caddie’s detective work bring her into contact with Jamie Ganivet, a fellow Karlsson scholar who now runs an antiquarian bookshop, and has given up on publishing literary criticism after an incident with his PhD supervisor. As Jamie and Caddie grow closer, it looks like things are about to change for Caddie, but the stakes are high. Everyone wants a piece of the Karlsson treasure, and when an old acquaintance gets involved, things become messy.
Several threads of the novel could have been expanded on, such as the roles played by Caddie’s roommates, Therese and Pretty, or some resolution regarding what happened to Caddie’s father. It’s hinted at that he’s recently passed away, but Caddie does not come to terms with the way she feels about this in the novel, and her connection to Karlsson seems to stem from her relationship with her father, so it’s a shame that Caddie’s deep dive into the Karlsson story does not seem to help her grieve the loss of her father.
This is a fast-paced, enticing novel, and one that is near-impossible to put down. It has everything. Missing manuscripts, romance, mystery, bookshops, the interwar years, clashing political beliefs… you name it, it’s in there. All these elements have been handled by an absolute master of the craft, and the authorial touch is light. Jordan’s writing style is, as always, perfectly matched to the subject matter, and she deftly handles the action and dialogue in such a way that the reader forgets they are reading a novel, and are transported into the scene. It’s possible to feel the Brisbane heat and humidity rising all around you as you read.
A new novel by Toni Jordan is always something to get excited about, and The Fragments is no different. It is an absolute triumph by one of Australia’s most adaptable writers. She truly can write in any genre. One only wonders what she’ll turn her pen to next.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Toni Jordan’s The Fragments is available now via Text Publishing.