The Better Son is set in 1950s northern Tasmania and is written by Australian author Katherine Johnson.
Essentially it's a story about two young boys who live on a dairy farm in Mole Creek and discover a hidden cave on their farm. Tommy and Kip retreat to the cave whenever they can escape their farm chores and explore the huge caverns, myriad tunnels, passages and underground rivers within. One day Tommy goes missing and Kip lies to his parents about what happened.
Tommy's disappearance and Kip's subsequent lie change his life from that moment and continue to haunt him for the next fifty years. The Better Son sees Kip facing the past in order to become a better person and a better father to his family.
The Better Son has won a number of prizes, and I can certainly see why. Johnson's writing is dark and atmospheric and the descriptions of a small dairy farming community and the secret underground world the boys discover really come alive on the page. I could hear the echoes of the boys' laughter, experience their awe and wonder at the huge caverns and immense stalactites, and yes, I even felt claustrophobic in a few places as well.
Johnson was inspired to write this novel after learning about two boys who discovered a cave in 1906. The boys kept the cave a secret for years, and it's now a popular tourist site in Tasmania's popular. This information adds yet another layer to the story.
The Better Son is a dark mystery that explores the power of secrets, guilt and regret on a family and the Tasmanian setting is unforgettable. Oh, and that cover!
My rating = ****