Adelaide Hills, Christmas Eve, 1959: At the end of a scorching hot day, beside a creek on the grounds of the grand and mysterious mansion, a local delivery man makes a terrible discovery. A police investigation is called and the small town of Tambilla becomes embroiled in one of the most shocking and perplexing murder cases in the history of South Australia.
Sixty years later, Jess is a journalist in search of a story. Having lived and worked in London for almost twenty years, she now finds herself struggling to make ends meet. A phone call summons her back to Sydney, where her beloved grandmother, Nora, has suffered a fall. Nora had fallen on the steps to the attic—the one place Jess was forbidden from playing in when she was small.
At loose ends in Nora’s house, Jess does some digging of her own. In Nora’s bedroom, she discovers a true crime book, chronicling the police investigation into a long-buried tragedy with a shocking connection to her own family.
When Jess Turner gets a call to say her grandmother, Nora, has had a serious accident in her home, she immediately books a flight to Australia. After breaking up with her partner and losing her job recently, Jess has been struggling financially but all that pales in comparison with the thought of losing her beloved grandmother. When she arrives at her grandmother’s house, Jess is intrigued when she learns her grandmother took a fall from the attic stairs and immediately wonders what Nora was doing up there at her age.
When Jess visits her grandmother in the hospital, a delirious Nora begins rambling about someone being taken away from her but none of it makes any sense to Jess. Returning to the house, Jess searches in the attic for any clue about why Nora was up there but finds nothing. However, a search of her grandmother’s bedroom reveals a copy of a true crime book by Daniel Miller which tells the story of the Turner family who were found dead in Tambilla on Christmas Eve 1959. Jess is astonished when she realises Nora was in Tambilla at the time of the murder and was related to the Turners. A police investigation concluded the tragedy was a murder-suicide but the townspeople could never reconcile with the idea that Isobel Turner, Nora’s sister-in-law, would poison her children and then take her own life in the same way.
The fate of the Turner family has always haunted the town of Tambilla, however the story regains international interest when Daniel Miller’s book As if They Were Asleep is released in the 1970s. The book, which contains interviews with the locals who knew the family, raises doubts the tragedy was the result of a murder-suicide but the mystery remains unsolved. Full of questions, Jess attempts to contact Daniel but is dismayed to learn he is deceased. However, Daniel’s niece sends extracts of interviews that never made it into the book and also sends a package of recordings Daniel made with Nora. It is these recordings that will turn Jess’s life upside down and expose long held family secrets.
Homecoming takes a long time to reveal its secrets and the pace may be a little too slow for some readers but the story is a complex one with multiple viewpoints. As well as Jess in the present, we meet various townspeople who were involved that day, either directly, or indirectly through Daniel’s book. We also have letters, diary excerpts, media articles and recorded interviews made by Daniel which mainly reveal Nora’s part in the tale as she is unable to do so. There’s a lot of information to grasp and sometimes it is hard to keep track of everything especially with the inevitable plot twists.
The townspeople of Tambilla are wonderful characters though and Morton has really excelled in her portrayal of a small town Australia in the 1950s. Part of me felt it would’ve been a much better story if Morton had chosen to stay in Tambilla and had all the secrets revealed through Daniel’s arrival rather than bothering with Jess. Jess’s connection to the Turner family is easy to work out but it was part of the book I liked the least.