Book Review - Shattered Sky by Helene Young

Suspense, murder and love in the Australian tropics.

On a routine surveillance flight in North Queensland, and in the midst of a fast approaching storm with the threat of a Cyclone (which hopefully stays far away from New Zealand), Captain Lauren Bennett and her Border Watch crew pick up a mayday call from a yacht in distress.  In collaboration with the naval ship HMAS Atherton, of which Callam Granger is the newly promoted CO, the yacht’s crew are rescued.  At first it appears that the yacht has merely encountered some difficulties and drifted into the storm, but once the crew are rescued and questioned, it is discovered that there could be something more sinister at work.

Lauren, the protagonist in this story, was one of the sub-characters in Wings of Fear.  Now a Captain, she is still in the throes of trying to come to terms with the role she feels she played in her best friend Gavin’s death.  After a bitter encounter with Callam in a pub about two months after Gavin’s demise, crossing paths with him is the last thing she wants to do.

Unfortunately, the rescue of the yacht’s crew members throws them back into each others lives when they both visit at the hospital.  Even though she wants to despise him, his genuine concern, understanding and empathy for her make it difficult.

Shortly after the rescue of the yacht’s crew members, Lauren receives a telephone call from her friend Mel who advises her that she’s had a tip from a member of an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG) about a suspected human-trafficking operation.  Armed with this information, she undertakes to find out as much as she can.

With the telephone call and Mel’s request playing on her mind, and whilst out on yet another patrol, Lauren and her Border Watch air crew are called in to maintain forward air support for the HMAS Atherton which has come across some seemingly suspicious activity in the water involving two vessels.  Callam, following instructions from his Rear-Admiral, instructs his naval crew to pursue the larger tanker which enables the smaller boat to escape.  In the ensuing mêlée between the naval officers and the fishing vessel, Callam is shot, resulting in their mission being aborted.

Are international smugglers really operating below the radar of the navy and Border Watch?

After doing all they can to support the naval vessel, Lauren’s flight crew turn around to head back in.  Movement on land draws their attention and they see a ute making its way through the scrub.  Using high-tech camera surveillance equipment they are able to obtain photos of the ute and its occupants.

Jack is one of those occupants.  (Now, I know that he is one of the villains in the story, but I really felt that he deserved a special mention in my review.)

When Lauren sees a photo of Jack, she describes him as “a man who’d endured and survived, a man who knew his limits, a man who regarded the world with a sardonic smile”.  An accurate description of him, Jack has suffered the pain of losing his wife and has two daughters to look out for.  It appears he went into this operation with his eyes closed and is now in a quandary over his involvement with the OMG and their illegal activities.  Will he be able to extract himself from this situation without dire consequences?

Back on land, the tensions between Callam and Lauren increase – and not always in a bad way.  Callam appears to have “snuck under Lauren’s defences”.

Callam, of course, is a man after my own heart (hubba hubba).  Unbeknownst to Lauren, he has been in love with her for 3 years.  Originally having hidden his thoughts of Lauren with “wayward cynicism” he has come to realise that he has misjudged her and throughout the story attempts to make up for it.  He feels that the uncomplimentary encounter with her in a pub two months after Gavin’s death, which created all the hostility between them, was unjustified and done in the heat of the moment.

Lauren, not wanting to dwell on her growing feelings for Callam which she feels could consume her, decides to retrace the steps of the last camping trip she took with Gavin and some friends and takes a few weeks leave over the first anniversary of his death - this, in order to try and “say goodbye” to Gavin and re-evaluate her life.

However, travelling back home from her camping trip, Lauren takes a wrong turn and finds herself near the property that Mel mentioned in her phone call, and her curiosity gets the better of her.  What follows is a nail-biting climax from which I wasn’t sure the characters would extricate themselves.

On a journey which takes you from Cairns to the outback region of Cape York, will Callam and Lauren be able to overcome their old animosities to outwit, outrun and ultimately out-fly the traffickers?

Being a South African living in Australia, I have found it so refreshing to read books by authors of my adopted country.  With all the “Aussie lingo” and scenic descriptions, especially with this one being based in Queensland, author Helene Young makes me feel right at home.

In my personal opinion, Helene is a really talented author and one who appears to have grown since the writing of Wings of Fear.  She has the creative ability of balancing the right amount of intrigue, suspense and romance in her writing - and a fabulous sense of humour to boot – a True Blue Aussie.

The descriptive manner in which Helene conveys the characters’ surroundings ensures that you will feel like you are actually at the scene.  The characters thoughts, too, draw you in, making way for a deep, personal and long-lasting connection.  Of course, one of the many things I loved about this novel was the fact that Helene weaves in the true meaning of “mateship”.

All in all, I found this to be a riveting and incredibly entertaining page-turner with a cleverly crafted plot.  The revelation of the true identity of one of the OMG members is going to leave you wanting to race out and get your hands on the next book in the trilogy, Burning Lies – I know I am.


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