Half Moon Lake
On a summer’s day in southern Louisiana, 1913, Sonny Davenport wanders away from his family’s vacation home at Half Moon Lake and doesn’t come back.
John Henry and Mary Davenport search for their child across the state and throughout the South. John Henry offers an enormous reward for Sonny’s return. Mary turns to spiritualists and occultists. Tom McCabe, a reporter at The St. Landry Clarion, becomes unhealthily attached to Mary and John Henry. After years of crushing disappointments following hope, Sonny is found with a peddler in Alabama. But the Davenports’ joy at finding their son is cut short when another woman, unwed domestic worker Grace Mill, claims the boy is hers.
As the two mothers fight to claim the child, people choose sides, testing loyalties, the notion of truth, and the meaning of the word family.
Half Moon Lake is a work of fiction. There is, however, a fascinating true story that inspired the novel – that of American boy Bobby Dunbar. Reporter Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutright tell that story in A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping that Haunted a Nation (Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc, 2012). Should the reader be interested in truth rather than fiction I strongly recommend McThenia’s and Dunbar Cutright’s detailed and compassionate telling of it.
Penguin Random House (Australian & NZ, 2019)
Grand Central/Hachette (US & Canada, 2020)
Half Moon Lake is set in 1913-1916. It was a time of incredible social, cultural and technological change — women campaigned for the right to vote, Jim Crow laws were in force, the First World War began; stainless steel, crossword puzzles, bras and gas masks were invented; every art form was radically reconsidered. The music embodied much of this dynamic time. This was the era of ragtime, dixieland, classical music like no one had heard it before (there were riots when Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was first performed in Paris), the earliest jazz, wartime songs. Sadly, not all of it was recorded. It’s hard to find some of the popular music of the day (spirituals, folk songs) performed by women, African American or Indigenous American musicians. And that’s telling in itself… But what is available is great - strange, surprising and fun. So here’s a playlist to accompany Half Moon Lake, from America's South and beyond.
Media & Events
Upcoming: Words & Nerds podcast, The Book Podcast
The Readings Podcast, 1 March 2019
A conversation with Reading’s Christine Gordon.
Sisters in Crime event, The Past is Never Past, 22 February 2019
Sisters in Crime history and mystery panel with writers Toni Jordan, M. J. Tjia, Kirsten Alexander and host Alison Goodman.
Chat 10 Looks 3 Canberra Bookclub night, 20 February 2019
Chatters gather with the author at Muse Bookshop to talk books.
3CR Published or Not interview, 14 February 2019
Hosts Jan Goldsmith and David McLean talk to Australian and international authors every week.
Behind the Pen interview, 13 February 2019
An interview with writer and reviewer Theresa Smith.
The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, 10 February 2019
By covering complex terrain, Half Moon Lake opens up an emotionally charged dialogue surrounding the choices we make and the lies we tell ourselves. Losing a child, arguably the ultimate grief, is a complicated thing and the author deals with the subject with awareness and sensitivity.
Theresa Smith Writes review, 4 February 2019
It’s a truly mesmerising novel, beautifully written with such a strong sense of time and place. When I finished reading it, I felt such an overwhelming wave of sadness and anger. The grains of truth that run through this story are enough to make me weep over the injustice of it.
The Winding Narrative interview, 31 January 2019
An interview with Australian writer Andrea Barton.
Herald-Sun and Canberra Times review, 26 January 2019
In an impressive historical fiction debut, US-born and Melbourne-based Alexander draws on the true story of Bobby Dunbar… It’s a captivating tale that explores the bonds between mother and child, the power of money and the importance of truth.
(This review appeared in print, not online.)
3RRR Backstory interview, 23 January 2019
With Rashelle McHugh. Backstory is a show about books, stories, the craft of writing, and the people behind the lines.
Sam Still Reading review, 22 January 2019
This novel is skilfully woven with themes of class, race and sex discrimination. It’s also the story of a family once whole, broken by a dramatic event and a desperate attempt to repair the hole that remains. It’s an incredibly strong debut that left me thinking about this book for weeks.
Better Reading interview, 21 January 2019
PRH, Researching Half Moon Lake, 20 January 2019
Are we responsible for the actions of our forebears? Do their choices change who we are? To my mind, the human experience makes no sense without exploring the stories from our past, imagining those from our future, and being clear-eyed and honest about our present.
The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, review 12 January 2019
A gripping, nervy tale of identity, class and race, in which power and money triumph over truthful the way to the shocking final scene… a strong original narrative, with a central mystery and an intriguing plot.
(This review appeared in print, not online.)
Australian Book Review, January-February issue 2019
Kirsten Alexander has produced an accomplished debut novel on this (lost children) theme… The publisher’s blurb says the novel is about ‘the parent-child bond, identity, and what it means to be part of a family’. All true: but what the novel is really about is power.
Mrs B’s Book Reviews, 11 January 2019
On first appearance it can seem like Half Moon Lake is a cut and dry historical based kidnapping story. I need to make it clear that Half Moon Lake is so much more than this.
Whitcoull’s (video) review, 10 January 2019
Better Reading Q&A, 9 January 2019
Better Reading review, 8 January 2019
Half Moon Lake is a captivating novel... Transporting us to another time, she takes readers to a world rife with injustice and prejudice, where the truth can be bought with gold, and social appearances mean everything. For readers who enjoy both historical and thriller fiction, Half Moon Lake should be on your reading list for 2019.
Good Reading review, January 2019
This is a powerful novel that examines the nature of identity and family bonds. Life in the south is evocatively described, from the landscape to the social politics, the plight of black slaves and the fate of orphaned children who are auctioned off… Alexander’s thoughtful novel kept me engrossed and raised plenty of questions that had me thinking about the book long after I finished.
Librarian’s Choice interview, 2 January 2019
Books & Publishing review, 25 October 2018
This isn’t simply the story of a missing boy—though that alone would have been enough to sustain a reader’s interest—it’s also a skilful exploration of multi-generational trauma, wrapped up in an engrossing mystery.