Consolation by Garry Disher

Crime fiction lovers of a certain vintage will recall the “Evenin’ all” of Dixon of Dock Green and the bordering-on-the-twee cosiness of Heartbeat. Both these British television series featured coppers with a keen local knowledge and a sometimes trying beat. Leaping across decades and continents, these days Australian cop Constable Paul Hirschhausen has stepped neatly into the breach.

Well, perhaps the local knowledge part is stretching it a bit, because Hirsch has only been in Tiverton, South Australia, for a year and a half and is still finding his feet. Formerly a city detective in Adelaide, Hirsch was busted down to uniform to serve in a remote, one-cop cop shop after turning whistle-blower on his colleagues. He’s trying his best to get the lay of the land though, and twice a week he patrols parts of his patch, visiting outlying properties and checking on the elderly and vulnerable.

He’s also investigating a crime with a name that’s new to me – snowdropping. We may be in the height of winter, but it has nothing to do with the weather conditions or the promise of spring flowers. We’re talking about someone (a snowdropper?) who pinches undies off women’s washing lines. There’s one in town, and we’re not talking Victoria’s Secret scanties either – this thief is playing havoc with the not-so-smalls of the older ladies of the population.

Hirsch gets diverted when a call comes in about a child who is home schooled but also attends some remote lessons. Her online teacher is worried about Lydia Jarmyn’s welfare and when Hirsch arrives at the property he is shocked by what he finds. The girl is locked inside a caravan, cold, undernourished and frightened. Where are her parents?

With the girl safely in the hands of Child Protection, he’s off on another call – there’s an irate father causing uproar at the primary school. Leon Ayliffe’s daughter is a pupil there, and it appears he’s drunk and determined to get his point across to the principal. After Hirsch has defused the situation, he hears both men out – and what he learns from Ayliffe sets faint alarm bells ringing. In a rural town like Tiverton, the stock and station agent is an important man. And it appears that Adrian Quinlan is not paying his bills, leaving farmers like Ayliffe in dire straits. The farmer is close to breaking point, and when that happens things are about to get mighty tricky for Hirsch – but fans of this series have come to expect such complications.

Garry Disher is known as the daddy of Aussie crime, and his latest offspring is coming along nicely. Hirsch is a many-layered character who is sometimes overlooked when his rural crimes get complicated and reinforcements are brought in. But the arrogant city cops underestimate him at their peril, because he’s an instinctive and intuitive officer whose tendency to think outside of the box can garner impressive results.

The loner in a new land tag is rubbing away a little these days. Hirsch is in a relationship with Wendy Street and the scenes with him and Wendy’s daughter Katie are an absolute joy. This is an author who is a master at characterisation, and the book is populated with some first rate examples. As in Bitter Wash Road and Peace, that overwhelming sense of place permeates every page. As the reader gets pulled in, it creates a comforting sense of familiarity – so much so that it’s a bit of a shock to realise that winter in Australia has nothing at all to do with Christmas!

There’s a hat-tip towards cosiness on occasion, but Disher tempers that with a portrait of life in the agricultural heartlands of South Australia that reeks authenticity and grit. Living there can be tough, at times hand to mouth, and very, very lonely – and that aching loneliness has a big part to play in what transpires in Consolation. There’s no sugar coating of how difficult things can be for the locals, and that honesty of purpose serves to make the reader feel a part of it all, albeit as a bystander.

I honestly felt a huge sense of loss as I reached the final sentence – why were there not more pages to turn? – and just wanted to keep on reading, vicariously inhabiting the world Disher had so lovingly created. The Hirschhausen series is getting better and better, and if you haven’t jumped on the merry-go-round as yet I urge you to do so. A slice of prime Aussie crime that just leaves you wanting more.

Read our interview with Garry Disher here. Aussie crime is also making its mark on TV – here’s our pick of the best. Also see Tom Bouman’s Henry Farrell series – this time for a lone cop in small-town Pennsylvania.

Viper
Print/Kindle/iBook
£3.79

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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