Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher

Kittyhawk Down (Inspector Challis, #2)
"[Challis] heard a loud chaffcutter rattle overhead and looked up. It was a 1942 Kittyhawk fighter."

This second in the mystery series set on a peninsula close by Melbourne on the southern coast of Australia shows Disher at his equivocal best. The police officers central to this series are good people at heart, but they’ve got issues…which interfere with their policing. Once again, we find wicked townspeople committing crimes, but it is the police we are watching, horrified as they bumble their way into yet another indiscretion. We fear that if we take our eyes from them for a moment, we will miss the next questionable (and objectionable) behavior.

Southern Australia never looked so lawless as in this spit of land popular with holiday-goers yet filled with low-rent year-rounders struggling to make crime pay. In this installment, we have a member of “International Most Wanted,” rapists, drug-pushers, marijuana growers, and baby-killers. All the while we sense a deep vein of Disher humor keeping the whole wildly improbable fiction from spilling over into downright absurdity. I like the way Disher thinks. He’s funny, but there is an edge there that reminds us of underlying truths.

Just a thought: for a story written on a narrow peninsula, there is precious little discussion of the sea. The peninsula isolation is complete even without Disher's mentioning shifting sands, the color of the water, or the quality of the air. It is unrelievedly dry and dusty. So is the rest of Australia, really, which makes us wonder what is the quality that makes this any different from any "bush" mystery. There is a coastal tang to the culture, then. One senses flip-flops and sees a few surfboards. The ocean creeps in unheralded and unremarked. There are no black people, and in fact, there are immigrants. One rarely (if ever) finds immigrants out "bush." Just a thought.

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