Book Reviews: Bitter Wash Road and Peace by Gary Disher

Australian veteran author Garry Disher has written over fifty books in a range of genres: crime thrillers, literary/general novels, short-story collections, YA/children’s novels, and writers’ handbooks. Disher produces about a book a year and was recognised for his extensive work when awarded the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award, 2018.

I recently read Bitter Wash Road (2013) and Peace (2019). Stand alone crime fiction novels, though they both have the same protagonist and are set in the same town. Bitter Wash Road was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Awards, Best Crime Novel, 2014. Both novels are complex slow burners with multi layered plots that keep the reader engaged and guessing.

It was heart-stopping, seeing Wendy Street at a Hills Hoist set in the lawn, battling a great flower head of white sheets onto the line. They flung themselves about, enveloping, licking and taunting, flattening against her body and filling with air again. He watched her wreathe and dance, fighting, feeling blindly for the pegs and the line.

Bitter Wash Road

Constable Paul Hirschhausen (Hirsch), the protagonist in these two books is a whistleblower cop who was demoted and sent to remote, dusty Tiverton, three hours north of Adelaide off the highway in South Australia. Other cops don’t trust him and internal investigations keep hounding him. Hirsch spends his days trying to do the right thing and stay out of trouble trawling the country roads and building relations with the locals, doing welfare checks and resolving small grievances until more serious crimes take place and all hell breaks loose.

This close to Christmas, the mid-north sun had some heft to it, house bricks, roofing iron, asphalt and the red-dirt plains giving back all the heat of all the days.

Peace

Disher knows rural SA intimately having grown up there and invokes the isolation of a small country town and its inhabitants beautifully, using economical pared back prose to show the climate, distance, inhabitants and challenges of remote towns. Disher’s plotting is subtle and the years developing his skills shine through in these well crafted novels with complex characters.

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