Title: The Housemate
Author: Sarah Bailey
Genre: Fiction Thriller; Mystery
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Published: August 2021
The Housemate by Sarah Bailey is a story of murder, investigative journalism, and a decades-old mystery. Oli Groves is a junior crime journalist covering the Housemate Homicide in 2005. The story of the three young women in St Kilda—one murdered, one accused, and one vanished—gripped the interest of the nation and led to a decade of speculation. Did Alex Riboni really kill Evelyn Stanley? And did she also kill Nicole Horrowitz, or did Nicole kill Evelyn and then go on the run? What was really happening in that house the night it all went so wrong?
A decade later and Oli is a senior journalist working for a different media company, assigned to investigate a suspicious death that might be Nicole, finally located after all these years. Oli is put on the case with Cooper Ng, a tech-savvy millennial whom she doesn’t gel with but has to include in investigating the story. But Oli is already too close to the case, and as they uncover years of lies and corruption she begins to suspect that the truth of it all lies very close to home.
The Housemate is a tightly-wound mystery, pulling into its orbit the often vicious nature of the media cycle, the tricks and treachery of memory, and the ghosts of people suddenly gone. Baily brings to life the deep suspicions that are pushed aside because they are too much to face, and the predatory evil of forcing vulnerable people into dangerous, desperate situations through her riveting narrative style. The construction of the plot is brilliant, and the messy, unravelling life of the protagonist makes Oli almost as interesting as the case she’s researching.
Although this work is a thriller mystery, the build-up of groundwork in the beginning and middle of the story is often quite slow. There were some chapters that took a long time to reveal the next enticing breadcrumb, slowing down the thrill of finding out the truth and sometimes making it difficult to focus on all the moving parts. It is not a quick, punchy thriller, but a deliberate and intensely-burning one, with the sudden rush of revelations at the end enough to make a reader feel dizzy.
Bailey has crafted an excellent protagonist, well-rounded characters, and a slow burning thriller that could only be set in and around Melbourne; the places and weather that Oli navigates are instantly recognisable to anyone who’s spent time in that city. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a drawn-out thriller and an explosive mystery.