Canticle Creek contains many classic features of the crime novel. An outsider. A seemingly quiet town with hidden secrets. An investigation slewed by local interests. Adrian Hyland harnesses these elements to produce a readable and exciting novel.
Two young people are found dead in a Victorian town. A woman has been murdered, and an Indigenous man known to be her boyfriend is suspected of the crime. He has been killed in a car crash, but all evidence points to him as the perpetrator.
In the Northern Territory, police officer Jesse Redpath hears of the case, and her knowledge of Adam, a small-time criminal with no propensity for violence, leads her to travel to Victoria to investigate.
The device of the out-of-towner allows the reader to discover things at the same pace as the detective. There is none of the awful fault of locals speaking unnaturally to other locals about things they would all know; rather, Jesse and the reader both start knowing nothing, and facts are gradually revealed. The prose is direct, and there are moments of humour as we are introduced to several suspects.
There is a cast of interesting characters, ranging from artists and curators, to Melbourne crime figures, to builders, an aggressive conservationist, workers and craftspeople. The wars in the former Yugoslavia have a continuing influence on one character. The reader will try to figure out who the murderer is before Jesse, but Hyland does a very good job of making this difficult.
Drugs, greed and the exploitation of the natural world are part of the economy of this seemingly sleepy town. Jesse is observant and brave, but also reckless, in the best tradition of thriller investigators. One minor fault with her linguistic skills is that a Geordie accent is described as Scottish. The character (also called Geordie) is a Scot, but those with Northern English roots will know that Geordies hail from Newcastle.
The environment itself is a character in the novel. It is so hot that it feels like a fire is about to break out, and the sizzling threat is maintained through most of the book.
A painting of an unusual orchid may be important in solving the crime. Small indentations in the ground and disturbed foliage are read by the inquisitive eyes of the outsider, as she tries to reconstruct events. The ability to reach out and grab a shrub proves vital. The land around Canticle Creek may not be singing, but it seems to be whispering to the investigator.
Canticle Creek is an entertaining and engrossing novel. Hyland has written the ideal story for a long hot summer, where fire always seems a possibility.
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