Garry Disher received the Australian Crime writers Association's Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Ward in 2018, the most prestigious literary prize for crime fiction in Australia, describing him as "a giant not only of crime fiction but of Australian letters".
He's been writing crime fiction for the past 30 years and yet his favourite creation is his latest, Paul Hirschhausen (Hirsch), who first appeared in Bitter Wash Road (2013), then in Peace (2019) and Consolation (2020). Hirsch now reappears in Disher's latest novel, Day's End.
The author has admitted that Hirsch is "at one level . . . an alter ego", a patient, decent man who has deep reserves of defiance and courage.
Hirsch originally worked in an urban CIB but became a whistleblower, reporting his colleagues for falsifying evidence and stealing drugs. As a result of what was considered an act of betrayal, he was "busted" back to uniform and sent to a distant, one officer police station in Tiverton in the mid north of South Australia, "policing an area the size of Belgium".
Unlike many of the novels in the new wave of Australian rural noir, Disher doesn't begin his novels with acts of violence or terror. The Hirsch novels begin with him patrolling vast areas of farmland in his Toyota four-wheel drive, and Day's End is no exception.
This latest finds him driving Dr Janne van Sant to a remote sheep station, Dryden Downs. Her son Willi had been backpacking around Australia but his mother has had no contact for four months. His last job was mustering sheep at Dryden Downs. Mia Dryden welcomes them with smiles and reassurance, and claims Willi is in Noosa with his girlfriend, producing a postcard as proof.
On the return two-hour trip to Tiverton, there's a call to attend a roadside fire, where an old canvas suitcase soaked in diesel fuel is in flames. When it becomes apparent there's body inside, Dr van Sant calmly takes control, revealing she works at the National Institute of Criminalistics and Criminology in Brussels. She tells Hirsch the body is that of an adult male but a tattoo on the forearm confirms it is not her son.
Hirsch is left with two questions. What has happened to Willi van Sant, and whose body is in the suitcase?
Day's End, with its complex plot and empathetic policeman, is crime fiction at its best. Disher sets the plot firmly in the time of COVID and of Trump. Hirsch is aware his community is jittery and fractured, with anti-vaxxers, animal ivermectin and a group called Antipodean Storm recruiting in the area.
It all culminates in an ending that took this reader's breath away.
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