When 16-year-old Shaun discovers a dead body in the lake of a quiet mining town in outback Queensland, he immediately reports it to the police. But when he returns to the site with the constable, the body is gone. Now his mum and the authorities question whether he saw a body at all. Determined to show the town the truth, Shaun and his best friend, Will, open their own investigation. But what they discover is far more sinister than a mining mishap or a murder, and reveals a darkness below the surface of their small mining town.
This novel follows the story of Shaun, an Australian high schooler who finds a body in a lake on a hot afternoon. From the first sentence, the reader is thrown into the murder mystery as it slowly consumes Shaun’s every thought. Shaun’s character is fleshed out and felt very real. He truly was a teenager dealing with personal problems, school, wanting the girl he fancied to notice him while trying to prove his small town in the Aussie outback that he wasn’t lying. It reminded me of the days when I was a teen and adults refused to believe me just because I was a kid who didn’t know any better. Shaun was human, desperately seeking approval, attention and making mistakes. But unlike other YA protagonist, Shaun understands his mistakes and tries very hard to make amends rather than brushing them off. We need YA protagonists like this!
Like most young adult novels, there is a romance plot-line but The Man in the Water is not about the romance but the Sherlock Holmes’ style murder mystery. The romance is important to Shaun’s character development because at some point it becomes his driving point. If he does this thing then Megan will love him and become his girlfriend, however, Burton is quick to squash this problematic stereotype as it blows up on Shaun’s face. When it does blow-up in Shaun’s face, instead of quitting since he can’t get the girl Shaun continues on the solving the mystery because it is the right thing to do not for himself, but for the community.
The plot overall was enjoyable. It is not an award-winning plot, but David Burton keeps you second-guessing on who the “murderer” was and overall entertained. The story also gave us a look into the life of coal workers in the outback which is a point of view I have never encountered since most stories happen in big cities or towns. It touched on topics on how the industry and mining companies affect a community and its families. In particular, it touches on how mining companies are corrupt and are willing to do whatever it takes to be profitable even it means the destruction of a community or someone’s mental health. I wish this area would have been more fleshed out, but alas a teenage boy doesn’t really care about trivial things like that unless it directly affects him.
The Man in the Water was overall a pleasant read and would recommend to anyone wanting to read a quick YA thriller with an unique setting.