Quick Review – Black River by Matthew Spencer

Black River Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 31 May 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 349 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Fantastic new author Matthew Spencer presents one of the best Australian crime debuts of 2022 with the powerful and intense Black River.

Plot Synopsis:

A long, burning summer in Sydney. A young woman found murdered in the deserted grounds of an elite boarding school. A serial killer preying on victims along the banks of the Parramatta River. A city on edge.

Adam Bowman, a battling journalist who grew up as the son of a teacher at Prince Albert College, might be the only person who can uncover the links between the school murder and the ‘Blue Moon Killer’. But he will have to go into the darkest places of his childhood to piece together the clues. Detective Sergeant Rose Riley, meanwhile, is part of the taskforce desperately trying to find the killer before he strikes again. Adam Bowman’s excavation of his past might turn out to be Rose’s biggest trump card or it may bring the whole investigation crashing down, and put her own life in danger.


Black River
was a highly compelling Australian murder mystery thriller that I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a few months ago.  The debut novel of veteran Australian journalist Matthew Spencer, Black River was an impressive read that dove into the dark heart of Sydney with a brilliant mystery.

Spencer comes up with a pretty exceptional and clever mystery for his first book, as Black River sees a damaged journalist and a dedicated cop investigate a deadly killer haunting Sydney.  The investigation in question is a combination serial killer hunt and standard murder investigation, with the main question being whether a murder at an elite boarding school is connected to the larger case or whether it was the work of a copycat.  At the same time, there is also a captivating dive into the mysterious history of the fantastically dreary and haunting boarding school setting, which seems to have a deeper connection to the case, especially as central protagonist, Adam Bowman, has some major history there.  Spencer takes the investigation on several great tangents throughout the book and presents a powerful story with some clever twists and turns.  I loved the balance of clever investigation, deep character examination, and psychological twists as you try to determine who the killer is and whether the two cases are linked.  Spencer introduces some great side plots and red herrings to distract the reader from the solution, including some concerning revelations about the main protagonist.  The eventual solution to the mystery was extremely good, and I loved just how shocking the main reveal was, especially as there is a very cool twist surrounding the identity of the killer.  Everything came together extremely well, and I was spellbound throughout the entire book as Spencer delivered a great, dark Australian mystery. 

In addition to the excellent story, I loved Spencer’s amazing use of Sydney as a background setting to the intense mystery, especially the parts of the city that border the Parramatta River.  Watching the police characters slowly traverse the elegant river, trying to work out how the killer uses it to choose their victims, is a brilliant touch that is sure to bring a shiver to any readers familiar with the area.  I also need to highlight the cool private school setting where the book’s primary murder takes place.  The old elite school with its coating of history and tradition makes for a memorable background where murder and tragedy feel like they belong.  Spencer really built up this school throughout the book, no doubt using his own personal experiences of such educational institutions, and it played into the plot extremely well, especially when aspects of class, privilege and money start to influence the investigation.

Spencer caps this all off with a great cast of excellent and captivating characters that add to the power and impact of the story.  Most of the book focuses on the character of Adam Bowman, the damaged journalist who is dragged into the case thanks to his personal connection to the private school.  Bowman is forced to revisit some of the worst moments from his past in this book, which helps to turn him into quite an intriguing protagonist, especially as you begin to wonder just how connected he is to everything.  Bowman is well balanced out by police character Rose Riley, who serves as one of the primary investigators in the book.  Rose is a great foil to Bowman and acts as the professional member of the cast who keeps the police storyline on track.  I liked the connection and partnership that develops between Bowman and Rose in this novel, especially as it was lacking any romance.  They make a great team, even though Rose considers him a possible suspect, and it will be interesting to see if Spencer revisits these characters again the future.

Overall, Black River is a pretty impressive crime fiction debut that really made an impression on me in 2022.  New author Matthew Spencer came up with a dark and memorable mystery story that makes great use of its Australian setting and cool characters.  A brilliant first outing from an amazing new talent and a must-read for all fans of Australian murder mysteries.

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One thought on “Quick Review – Black River by Matthew Spencer

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Debuts of 2022 – The Unseen Library

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