With a couple of series already under his belt Garry Disher’s outback noir Bitterwash Road could have been a stand alone. And given that book came out over six years ago, there was no reason to think Disher would return to the small South Australian outback town of Tiverton. But now, following another potential series starter with Under the Cold Bright Lights, Disher returns to the small town in the “mid-north” of South Australia, and its lone policeman Paul Hirschhausen, or Hirsch.
When Peace opens, Hirsch has been in Tiverton for almost a year. Despite being in a relationship with a local school teacher and greater familiarity with the district he still feels like an outsider. But there is plenty of work to keep his mind off that: copper theft, missing dogs, joyriding teenagers, just the usual small town occurrences. But then things start to escalate. A small child left in a locked car on a hot leading to a confrontation with a distraught mother that finds its way onto YouTube, an viscious attack on the prize miniature horses of a local and then murder and missing children. Soon detectives from Adelaide and Sydney are on the scene and Hirsch is in the middle of a manhunt.
Hirsch is not the standard local copper. He is an ex-detective, send to Tiverton as punishment for turning on his corrupt colleagues. And as a detective who has seen corruption before he can not help but question the motives of the police who have been sent to help and do a little investigating of his own.
There is plenty of crime in Peace but as with many of his other books, Disher is more interested in the community impacted by those crimes. In the Peninsula (aka Challis and Destry) series the focus is particularly on the community of police officers, in Under the Cold Bright Lights it is protagonist Alan Ahl’s “waifs and strays” and in Peace it is the rural community of Tiverton. Peace paints a vivid portrait of a small country community dealing through the eyes of an outsider who is slowly becoming an insider through its residents and locales.
While there is plenty of other Australian rural crime fiction on bookshop shelves, Disher is the real deal. Through a typical day for Hirsch, Disher sets up a number of intersecting crimes and characters, peppering clues through their actions and behaviour. And his descriptions of the landscapes, the buildings, the roads and the isolated houses or caravans at the end of them, create an authentic setting for the action.
Peace is another masterclass in crime fiction from a multiply-awarded author who continues to hone his craft. His rural crime novels do not feel like a writer following the latest trend but rather someone who deeply understands the landscape and the people who live in it and uses crime fiction as his vehicle for telling their stories.