The year is 1942; far away, World War II rages. Lindsay Armstrong’s family has come to Billarooby to farm in this remote Australian backland. Lindsay, eleven years old, sensitive, and imaginative, discovers a strange man lurking near the family’s ramshackle house and chases him. The man turns out to be an escaped Japanese prisoner-of-war who had been housed in a nearby camp. Lindsay, horrified, witnesses the man’s capture and sadistic punishment, and this spectacle triggers in him dim but foreboding snatches of memory--of a murder in his family.

The days grow hotter and dryer; drought conditions intensify and crops die in the fields. Billarooby becomes a seething caldron of fear, racism, and rage. In the Armstrong family, too, tensions heat to a murderous tempo. This will be the year Lindsay discovers who he is.

Jim Anderson’s first novel is a worthy attempt. He manages to flip back the skin of a family and a period of history to reveal festering sores that, in the light, may heal.