The Fourth Season by Dorothy Johnston

The Fourth Season by Dorothy Johnston
Publisher: Wakefield Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (232 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

When the body of young female environmental activist and science student, Laila Fanshaw, is found floating in Lake Burley Griffin, private investigator Sandra Mahoney’s life is turned upside down, not least because her partner, Ivan, was in love with Laila. Ivan is a suspect and has no alibi for the time of death.

A further strain is put on the relationship when another suspect, who worked in the Federal Environment Department, wants to hire Sandra to help him clear his name.

Sandra has to weigh up her desire to learn the truth against her children’s needs. Only six-year-old Katya is Ivan’s natural child; adolescent Peter has a different father. But both children are deeply affected by Laila’s death and Ivan’s reaction to it. Added to this, Sandra’s friend in the Federal Police, Detective Sergeant Brook, is absolutely against her involvement in the case.

It takes all of Sandra’s ingenuity and courage to steer herself, and her family, through the dangers that lead to an eventual unmasking of the truth.

The Fourth Season offers a wonderful combination of mystery and literary fiction that will enchant you.

It took me a while to familiarize myself with the characters of the novel. Perhaps the fact that this is the fourth novel in the Sandra Mahoney quartet has made some of the introductions and transitions in the first third of the novel a little too abrupt, the author presuming the reader was familiar with the backstory. But once I established the connections between the protagonists and their past and present relationships, an intricate, compelling web of relationships opened up in front of me and drew me into the story.

All the characters, including the children, were portrayed as distinct personalities with motives and complex psychological inner lives. Each character was a world onto themselves and they were all a delight to discover and delve into. This was what also made the relationships complex, multi-faceted and unpredictable, all adding to the suspense of the story and a generally satisfying reading experience.

Although there were several spelling mistakes and typos, the rich, imaginative language shows that the author is not a stranger to literary fiction. Together with the great character portrayals and the complex relationships, it makes this mystery novel more than just a light read. The environmental issues and complicated politics linked to them create a believable background to the suspenseful murder mystery. In this light, the true motive behind the murders turned out to be a little surprising.

While the first half of the novel described little action and was almost exclusively based on Sandra gaining insight into the murder mystery through interviewing suspects and witnesses, the pacing never wavered. The suspense was, in this part, mostly based on the private emotions and ruminations of the protagonists, especially Sandra, and I felt that was done remarkably well. In the second part, the pace picked up and the plot rushed towards a shocking culmination. I liked how Sandra mused on the loose ends that the murder investigation hadn’t succeeded in resolving. It’s a sign of a good writer when they let fiction mimic the chaos of reality.

If you like your mysteries with a little more depth and literary quality, The Fourth Season won’t disappoint.


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful and generous review.

  2. It was a pleasure.

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