Garry Disher is one of Australia’s most loved crime fiction writers, with dozens of bestsellers and a growing international reputation. His writing is assured and reliably of a high quality; his depiction of outback Australia is steadfastly immersive and evocative, his characters are engaging and his dialogue is spot-on, whether it’s an adolescent girl or a hardened criminal. And his character of Hirsch (or Constable Paul Hirschhausen) from the tiny Tiverton police station is one of his most memorable and endearing. Regular readers will delight in this new novel Day’s End (Text 2022) featuring the self-deprecating, determined and morally centred Hirsch, and new readers are lucky to have three previous books in the same series (while still being standalones).
Day’s End follows Consolation, Peace and Bitter Wash Road, and through these novels we as readers have connected and become firmly fond of Hirsch as he navigates the intricacies of internal politics, bureaucracy, police media management and red tape, whilst also patrolling his patch of ground – large in area but with the intimate feel of small town locals combined with scattered and diverse citizens on surrounding landholdings, farms and properties. Hirsch is a good policeman. His bread and butter is mostly benign…unlicensed driving, stolen underwear, loss stock, shoplifting kids, neighbours bickering over fences. But when a larger crime does occur, he meticulously and carefully searches for evidence, mulls over motives and suspects, and tries to think outside the square (even if he is often stymied by those higher up).
This latest book feels very contemporary, set in the midst of the pandemic, with border closures, mandatory masks and vaccination protests. Hirsch witnesses the virus heightening stress and social divisions, and he himself feels under the emotional strain of dealing with people who have widely divergent views about government restrictions and mandates, vaccine hesitancy, social distancing and expected behaviour. Tiverton and surrounds are a tinderbox of unresolved and simmering resentments, and it us up to Hirsch to maintain a cool head.
Day’s End opens with Hirsch travelling the district with an international visitor, Janne Van Sant, who has come to Australia to search for her missing backpacker son. They’re looking into the last photos the young man posted on social media and questioning his last place of employment. Something’s not quite right but Hirsch can’t put his finger on exactly what. A call about an abandoned suitcase soaked in fuel and set alight takes precedence and two things become obvious – Janne knows even more about forensic evidence than Hirsch, and the body in the suitcase is not that of her son. From here, the novel explodes into a complex story with many plot threads, each apparently unconnected. Hirsch must follow each lead to get to the truth, and in doing so, manages to uncover a much darker story than he ever imagined.
Quite apart from Disher’s excellent storytelling skills, which see the reader guessing until the very end, it is his writing style that is so appealing. The characters are depicted with nuance and emotion and even the minor players feel very fleshed out and real. Disher’s ear for dialogue is pitch perfect and his pacing and sustained tension make for a page-turning read.