Both of Matthew Spencer's parents were teachers and, as a result, he lived until he was 15 on the 320 acre campus of a boys' boarding school on the Parramatta River.
After an English degree from Sydney University, Spencer worked as a journalist at The Australian for 20 years, running the Foreign news desk as well as being opinion editor.
Spencer's debut novel Black River, set in a boys' boarding school with a journalist investigator, draws on both of these elements of his past.
St Albert's College is a prestigious Anglican boy's boarding school on the Parramatta River:
"It was four hundred acres fenced off in the suburbs - patrician, blazered and slap bang in the centre of the western sprawl . . . the school was a throwback: vast, gated, studded with sandstone buildings and hemmed by native bush."
The school is deserted in the January holidays, when the body of a young girl is found murdered in the school grounds.
There have already been two brutal murders of young women on the bank of the river. The homicide unit believe they are searching for an emerging serial killer.
The killer seems to have an understanding of forensic science, washing away all traces of evidence with bleach.
All the police have to link the two victims is that they are " both young white adult females, living at home with their parents, on different sides of the same street, on a peninsula that jutted into the river".
Is the body at the school his third victim or a copycat murder?
Meanwhile, Adam Bowman is a journalist working the night shift at the "National", a broadsheet "on its knees and bleeding out, most of its staff laid off or having quit".
But Bowman's parents were teachers at St Alberts and he lived on campus until he was 15. He knows the secret ways onto the campus, bypassing the police cordon on the front gate.
As his editor sends him to the school to investigate, Bowman is contacted by police detective Rose Riley, who also wants to use his insider knowledge telling him, "you work with us, we work with you".
Spencer has said he decided to write crime fiction because he wanted to write a book that was enjoyable and entertaining.
"I thought crime was the best way to do that, rather than have some sad character walking around Camperdown or Surry Hills wondering what life's all about," he says.
Black River is a remarkable debut: tense, vivid and realistic.
The media frenzy, the suspiciously charming headmaster, the interfering politician whose boys attend the school combine with Spencer's main characters to create an addictive read.
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