As ‘The Ripster’, Mike Ripley writes the gossip column Getting Away With Murder for Shots. Mr Campion’s Fox, now out from Severn House, is his twenty-first book.
Garry Disher is an award-winning Australian writer in a number of genres and fields, with over 40 books to his credit in a career spanning over thirty years. So why isn’t he better known in the UK? He certainly deserves to be if only on the strength of his new book, Bitter Wash Road, which is an absolute corker of a crime novel and puts him up there with the likes of Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin and John Harvey.
The setting is rural South Australia, north of Adelaide, and Bitter Wash Road which runs through this dusty, desolate countryside is very aptly named. Everything – the people, the forlorn townships, the isolated farms, the unforgiving landscape – has a bitter taste to it. This is not a place brimming with the spirit of human kindness and Bitter Wash Road is definitely not a story of everyday country folk; at least I hope it’s not.
Constable Paul Hirschhausen – known as Hirsch – is posted to a ‘blink and you miss it’ township out in the sticks after whistle-blowing on corrupt cops in his previous posting. To his new fellow officers, Hirsch is about as welcome as a truckload of Redback spiders and they make no bones about their feelings for whistle-blowers – or to use a technical term, ‘maggots’.
Whilst watching his own back against his present colleagues and testifying against his former ones, Hirsch takes his constable duties seriously and attempts to get to know the inhabitants of his depressed parish, keeping law and order but not necessarily, as it turns out, keeping the law in order. A hit and run fatality leads him into the uncovering of a vice ring and a conspiracy involving the most powerful men (or men who think they are powerful) in a macho community seemingly bereft of hope and happiness.
This is a superbly well-plotted thriller, beautifully written – especially the descriptions of the harsh outback – and with an intriguing hero, an honest cop faced with dishonesty at every turn, though by no means a super-hero or, dare one say it, a Robocop. Most human of all is that when Hirsch embarks on one of his regular long drives along Bitter Wash Road, he doesn’t – unlike many fictional detectives I could name – spend half a day deciding on a play list of music for the car’s stereo. Hirsch just gets in and drives. Only writers have the time to fret and select favourite music tracks; policemen don’t.