Book Review: The School Run by Ali Lowe

For parents hoping to send their sons to an elite Sydney private school, gaining admission can be murder.

Ali Lowe burst into Australian bookstores in 2022 with The Trivia Night and has produced a thriller every year since. The School Run is her third, and, like her earlier offerings, is set in a fictional enclave of Sydney’s monied beachfront society. Ali’s novels are stand-alones, each with new characters and new crimes, but they share the same quality of prising off the polished facade of these affluent suburbs, and prodding the private, sometimes desperate underbelly. She is carving out a niche of noir with an ocean view, and her growing number of fans seem to agree: if you like one, you will like them all.

And so to Pacific Pines, and in particular St Iggy’s Boys’ school, and the treacherous stretch of coastal road the status-seeking parents must traverse to reach the filigree gates. The plot of The School Run revolves around the bare-knuckle fight between parents to gain one of the school’s coveted spots. This campaign culminates with the gladiatorial gala day when the prospective students are judged on their sporting and academic aptitude.

The players are newly widowed Kaya Sterling, who has just moved to Pacific Pines with her son, Queen Bee Estella and the nice-nice-nice baker Bec. The three women are linked by secrets and alliances and share an appetite for getting their boys into Iggy’s. It quickly becomes clear that they will stop at nothing to secure their sons’ a position.

Buy The School Run at QBD Books here.

There’s a well-drawn cast of supporting characters, and potential suspects. Other mothers hover in the periphery, assorted husbands, and teenager daughters who are experimenting with sex and drugs add another layer to the story. There’s also the creepy ex-school captain Felix Weaver, the powerful and supercilious principal of Iggy’s, Ursula Deacon, and her son, who is the head of sport, Sam Deacon.

Amid the jostling, someone commits an unthinkable, and cowardly act of violence, but the motivations are obscured by other intrigues and revelations that wrap around the central action. As the story progresses the strands do not gently unfold to reveal the culprit, but rather tighten as the book climaxes towards the final reveal.  

Ali has said she devours books by Sally Hepworth and Liane Moriarty, and the influence of both these homegrown bestsellers can be seen in The School Run. Ali’s style sits somewhere between the two. It has the jolts and surprises of a Hepworth page-turner, but lingers over the observational details, in the way a Moriarty work would.

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The School Run doesn’t quite reach their heights of Hepworth and Moriarty, but few books do. Both are global juggernauts and seasoned professionals, while Ali is still gathering steam. Plenty of snappy dialogue keeps the pace cracking along. The narrative shifts perspectives so that we can see into the homes, and minds of each lead character.

Ali has said she often gets halfway through her first draft before deciding who did the deed, and it has the intended effect: you cannot pick whodunnit. Clues are laid, but the offender’s trail is well concealed until all is revealed. The School Run has more twists than a corkscrew factory to the point that it almost teeters into the implausible, but just at the right moment, Ali pulls it together and sticks the landing. It is a fun and rollicking ride.

Buy The School Run here and read our interview with Ali Lowe.

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