Anybody who has spent any time in the Dandenong Ranges will know all about the pea-souper fogs that often accompany rain storms of almost biblical proportions. Add to that the dense, heavy canopy and undergrowth of the Mountain Ash rainforest up there and you're hard pressed to see your own feet on occasions, let alone find 3 missing kids who have disappeared from a police-run camp high up in the Hills.
INTO THE FOG is the third Georgie Harvey, John Franklin mystery from Dandenong-ranges based Sandi Wallace, and she's used her local knowledge of the place to great effect, when a young girl and her two younger brothers vanish from a magnificent old house that's being used as a temporary camp for kids from Daylesford that need a break. The little group has been hand picked by the Daylesford police - either because of family trauma or deprivation to enjoy some time away from families and responsibilities. Which quickly goes wrong as a huge storm batters the hills on the night that the 3 disappear.
At the time Franklin is in Ballarat, hopefully on a career advancement trajectory, which goes very pear-shaped as soon as he hears that the kids he feels responsible for have vanished. There's no clear indications either of whether they got lost or whether they have been abducted, and there's no shortage of possible villains lurking in the near vicinity from the creepy house owner who left the house but not suspicions behind, his housekeeper and her increasingly odd husband, or the terrain itself. The storm doesn't help search parties, and it makes the likelihood of sightings complicated as well - very few Dandenong ranges residents are out meandering about in a storm that will bring down huge trees, drench everything to the skin in seconds, take out electricity, block roads and generally make life complicated for everyone.
Despite the search parties, despite the local knowledge from local cops, and despite Franklin's frantic run from Ballarat to the Hills, things are looking very bad for these kids, when they haven't been found after days of searching, even before Wallace gives you a peak into the current circumstances of the young girl - whose fate is looking pretty bleak, and whose brothers seems to have completely disappeared.
There's a good sense of the place, the climate, the local residents and the terrain in INTO THE FOG. It's a real strength of this novel - this is a place that Wallace obviously knows well and the idea that kids could simply vanish up there makes sense, and is well supported by the god awful weather that's being experienced. Harvey's investigative skills are also put to good use as she determinedly hunts for hints and clues about people who surround the kids, and about what they have been up to themselves - there's a social media trail here that's sketchy but followable. The inclusion of Franklin's Daylesford colleagues, and his own daughter Kat in the cast, makes sense in terms of the kids camp setting, and it gives Wallace a chance to ramp up the personal woven into these stories - they have an element of romance in them for readers who like that sort of thing. There's also that feeling of a closed room - it's a big area, made small and enclosed by the house in which the characters are all staying, and the forest that encloses them.
On the crimeance side of the genre spectrum, INTO THE FOG has a good sense of confusion and complexity, with plenty of red herrings, some pleasing twists in the tail, and a bit of side-road meandering in the personal for those looking for some romantic as well as case based tension. Readers might feel some sinking sense of inevitability early on, but don't believe everything you're reading, the resolution here isn't as straight-forward as you might think.