Monday, June 29, 2009

Blood Moon, by Garry Disher

Blood Moon, by Garry Disher, is another excellent novel in the Inspector Hal Challis/Sergeant Ellen Destry series (his legal central characters, as opposed to his criminal one, in the Wyatt series). At the end of the previous novel in the series, Chain of Evidence, Challis and Destry had fallen into bed together after years (and 3 previous novels) of dancing around their attraction to each other. In Blood Moon (the title refers to a lunar eclipse), they're dealing with some of the consequences of being a couple at home and colleagues at work. That's only one thread of this complex and satisfying novel, though. Disher is particularly good at giving what would be minor characters in another writer's hands a full and complex life. Scobie is a plodder, as a detective, but for that reason effective at detail work--and his wife has veered further into religious compulsion; Pam Murphy has been promoted to plainclothes CID work but is falling into a relationship with a shady new cop in the department; and so on, each thread of their private lives intertwined with the crime plots of the book. Vacationing school kids descending on the beach community of Waterloo, Victoria, which sounds like Panama City Florida at U.S. spring break, but the kids in Disher's story are younger. The chaplain of a private school is viciously attacked, and we follow the rather miserable life of a woman whose husband is a classic controller/abuser. We also meet venal bureaucrats and politicians, a racist blogger, religious fanatics, and "toolies" taking advantage of the "schoolies" on spring break. There has also been a series of sexual assaults (a thread that promises to recur in future novels due to complications in the professional lives of Challis and Destry, whose relationship is now public). The format of the police procedural is a perfect frame for such a complex story (Disher's "caper" novels with Wyatt at the center are much more straightforward). And as is typical with the procedural form, the mystery aspect of the story is not a puzzle but a process. what Disher brings to the form is a superior command of the material and a very evident appreciation for the individuality of the various characters. The crimes and the investigations proceed in zigzag fashion, so that the plot continues to be as engaging as the characters. Fortunately for readers in the U.S. we've almost caught up with Disher's production (Blood Moon was published here in the same year as its Australian publication), though there are still some Wyatt novels that haven't appeared here and are a bit hard to find without paying huge shipping fees. Maybe Disher's success (and accomplishments) will inspire a U.S. publisher (perhaps Soho, the premier U.S. publisher of non-U.S. crime novels and the publisher of the Challis/Destry novels here) to pick up the Wyatt novels...

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