Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Dragon Man by Garry Disher

This first novel of the Hal Challis series by Garry Disher is disturbing. The setting is The Peninsula, a spit of land on the outskirts of Melbourne in Victoria Province. It is described as dry, even somewhat barren in places, and susceptible to drought and fire. Paradoxically it is surrounded by water on three sides--the kind of environs that gives us, in the age of global warming and extreme weather, immediate pause and a sense of foreboding. It is near a major city but removed from its hustle. It is populated by those with great wealth and those who can barely scrape together the wherewithal to make a meal. There is an annual influx of campers and holiday-goers escaping the even greater heat of the farther north. In this setting we meet the officers of a constabulary struggling, to a man, to stave off poverty, ennui, petty professional jealousies, inappropriate love, and finally, crime. None of them succeed with all of these.

As I struggled to express my unease with the underlying story in this “crime” series, I came across an essay written by Stepan Talty for the New York Times called "Stranger Than Fiction on the Cop Beat". Talty goes right to the heart of my unease by saying that the real cop stories are often funny and horrible at the same time: “how beautiful and sinister a thing the cop brotherhood can be” is how he puts it. Just so. By that standard, Disher must be writing something very close to the truth because his description of the men and women of law enforcement leaves us unsure of them, of the criminals among us, and even of ourselves (the curious, the gawkers, the next-door-neighbors). There is a serial killer on The Peninsula, but it is the police that hold our attention and engage our emotions. The sense of dread is amplified by watching them.

A reviewer for a different book once wrote that some readers must like the characters they read about, or approve of their choices, or sympathize with their point of view, but not all novels will give us that. Well, this one won't. But readers who pick up a crime novel should expect, in some small way, to come away unsettled. This series looks like it will deliver.

Garry Disher has a long string of novels to his name and has received honors, awards and prizes, but this series has only been published in the United States beginning in 2004. There are now six books in the Challis series and U.S. publication is coming now at only a slight remove from publication in Australia. Disher discusses his books and provides an extract of the sixth Challis novel on his website. His female character Sergeant Ellen Destry began to take on a life of her own as the series progressed, so now the series can reasonably be called the Challis/Destry series.

Check it out. Australia without the bush has a different feel. Be prepared to be disconcerted.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

No comments:

Post a Comment