Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher
Text, 2013. ISBN 9781922079244.
Recommended for older readers. Bitter Wash Road adds to Garry Disher's growing reputation as a writer of crime fiction. The novel is set in thinly disguised towns in South Australia's mid-north. Hirsch, or Constable Hirschhausen, is in exile from the city and his career seems to be in abeyance because he has given evidence against a corrupt officer and is suspected of being corrupt himself. His life seems to be threatened as a cardinal rule of the force is that police do not grass on fellow police. Hirsch quickly learns that his colleagues in Redruth are not to be trusted and do not trust him. They also seem to be involved in a number of crimes, some petty but some not. He survives an attempt to set him up and an official enquiry, and is then asked to investigate in secret an under-age sex ring. When a young girl is found dead by the side of the Barrier highway Hirsch wonders about her possible involvement. He is also suspicious about the supposed suicide of a farmer's wife, and the possible involvement of the police officers who seem overly keen to claim the death as suicide. Meanwhile he becomes established in his small community as someone who cares and wants to be positively involved in community life. As Hirsch builds trust he learns more about the victims and the power brokers in the area, and it becomes clear that the deaths are connected. The plot is resolved in a suspense filled scene when Hirsch is confronted by a .303 armed trio who have decided that the easiest way out is to kill him and dump his body down a mine shaft. He is of course saved but in an unexpected way, and in the course of tying up the loose threads learns some unexpected truths about his sergeant. The plot is tightly woven and the characters believable while not totally predictable. Hirsch, an incorruptible but not infallible policeman, is dealt with warmly. Another strength is the description of the landscape which is understated but accurate, and lyrical without being obtrusive. The novel is recommended for older readers.