Peace, by Garry Disher.
‘All a cop wants at Christmas, thinks Constable Paul Hirschhausen (Hirsch, please) is not Heavenly Peace, just a general absence of mayhem’. And fair enough, too. Hirsch was a detective in a former life – and a previous book, which naturally I haven’t read. (Where have I been all my life?) He exposed crookedness and graft in the South Australian Police force, but is regarded as a nark by his colleagues, and instead of being rewarded for his honesty, has been demoted to country constable, patrolling tiny towns and remote farms. It’s not what he was trained for, but he’ll do his best regardless, and after a year based in Tiverton, Christmas has rolled around again - he hasn’t exactly hit his stride, but he is being seen as less of an outsider and more of a fixture – he hopes.
Criminal acts are pretty minor by big city standards; the usual domestics, drunks and thefts – until several of the miniature show ponies of one of the locals are carved up and left to die in their paddock. As if cruelty to animals weren’t horrific enough, a woman visiting the weekly Doctor’s clinic left her little daughter in her car in stifling summer heat: it was touch-and-go for a time as Hirsch fought to free the child from the car, only to have the subsequent battle with the mum uploaded to YouTube – publicity he doesn’t need, being already in bad odour with his superiors. He just can’t catch a break and, true to form, when you’re sure that things can’t get worse, they invariably do.
The neglectful mother is found murdered, along with her teenage son (‘No, no, constable, I only have one child!’); her little daughter has disappeared, along with an older daughter that no-one knew about, necessitating an influx of the top brass from Adelaide – and Sydney, even, and it goes without saying that these luminaries treat constable Hirschhausen as the yokel he deserves to be – but he was a good detective, and the demotion hasn’t deprived him of his skills. He can still mix it with the big boys, and does so with aplomb.
Mr Disher is SUCH an entertainer! He paints great word-portraits of small-town Australian life; the huge, empty, dried-out landscape, and the hardiness and humour of the classic Aussie battler. In prose stark, shocking and familiar to us all on this side of the Tasman, he introduces us to characters that we could recognise anywhere in Oz or EnZed: we are cuzzies, after all. And happy to be so. FIVE STARS.