Petronella McGovern is an Australian-born writer. Her first fiction novel, Six Minutes, was published in 2019. With a childhood on farmland in New South Wales, the beauty and danger of the Australian bush features prominently in her debut. Prior to her debut in fiction, McGovern authored the non-fiction book Trailblazers: The Story of Australia's First Olympic Equestrians.
Six Minutes Review
Lexie Parker leaves her daughter, Bella, in the care of four responsible playgroup mums. She's gone for just six minutes.
What's the worst that could happen?
When Lexie dashes back from the shop, specially requested biscuits in tow, she searches for her daughter. It's only been six minutes.
But Bella has disappeared.
At first, everybody is keen to help in the search for the toddler. Fellow parents, school teachers, police, and other well-wishing locals spend hours searching the streets, buildings, and dense scrub. But, of course, any seemingly helpful face could be hiding darker intentions.
As the search continues on with no hint of little Bella, online mystery-solvers and true crime enthusiasts begin to question Lexie and her husband's past. The hate messages and claims of involvement from the parents catapult the missing child investigation into another sphere entirely.
The setting of Merrigang draws Six Minutes out from being a somewhat closed room mystery to a slightly larger one. With Bella last seen in the playground outside the building, it's first believed that she couldn't have gone far. Even by vehicle, there are high hopes that she will be found quickly.
But the once-beautiful Brindabella Ranges become an oppressive force with every passing hour of Bella's disappearance. How long could a little girl last in a place like that?
McGovern has chosen a wide array of characters to cover this story from every angle. Readers witness Lexie's distraught response to her daughter's disappearance, her husband Marty's pull toward a kind female coworker, the local teacher's desperation to hide his link with Bella, a playgroup's mum determination to draw attention and fame to herself and Bella's case, and the intense investigation of a local police detective.
Given the small-town setting, this range of characters really lets the reader dive into every suspenseful layer of the novel. Despite flipping between so many points-of-view, the reader is never left in the lurch. McGovern has done a remarkable job of ensuring a strong thread as the reader is catapulted into each character's internal world.
In the past, I have read novels where I found myself flicking back to the start of each chapter to re-orientate myself (which character am I reading?), which quickly creates confusion and loses suspense. In Six Minutes, McGovern keeps the suspense flowing throughout the novel no matter whose point of view, skilfully leading the reader to question every thing and everyone.
McGovern adds even more elements of intrigue by layering the story with elements of social media. The creative use of blog, forum, and social media post excerpts add another interesting new dynamic.
A truly impressive piece of debut fiction, there is no doubt that Petronella McGovern will be a name to watch in the Australian publishing landscape.
Lexie Parker leaves her toddler, Bella, in the care of four playgroup mums. She's gone for just six minutes. But when she returns, Bella is gone. Is her disappearance connected to the angry ...