With Australian rural noir booming, writers are needing to find new ways to get good detectives out into the countryside. In Jane Harper’s The Dry, Aaron Falk comes home for a funeral and ends up investigating. In Garry Disher’s series which started with Bitterwash Road (and continued with Peace), Paul Hirschhausen has been sent into purgatory for blowing the whistle on his colleagues. In Greg Woodland’s debut The Night Whistler, former detective Mick Goodenough (pronounced Good-no, readers are informed very early on), has been demoted to probationary constable in the NSW New England town of Moorabool for a range of sins that link back to a series of unsolved murders in Sydney but also include alcoholism. Mick is now at the bottom of the pecking order , the fifth wheel in his four man police station, putting him on the back foot as things start to go wrong in town.
Set in the late 1960s, The Night Whistler has a second narrative strand, that makes it closer in feel to books like Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones and Peter Twhoig’s The Cartographer. This is the story of twelve year old Hal, whose family has moved to Moorabool so his father can take up a job as head sales rep for a local food company. Hal and his little brother Evan discover a recently killed dog in a bin near an abandoned caravan and Hal, a Sherlock Holmes fan, is determined to investigate. The dog belonged to Mick who also wants to track down the perpetrator as he knows that killing animals is a step along a road towards killing people. When Hal’s mother starts receiving disturbing phone calls from a whistling stalker, both Hal and Mick start to investigate.
The rest of this novel goes much the way readers will expect. Moments of tension, Mick fighting his demons and small minded colleagues, Hal coming up with and following his own theories with the help of Allie, an Aboriginal girl who befriends him. Driving the action are the usual mix of small town secrets and indiscretions. All of which builds to an incredibly tense finale.
The Night Whistler fits neatly in the growing body of Australian gothic noir. Screenwriter Woodland brings a reality to this small country town – the corrupt developers, the racial tensions, the unspoken class divides. And the mystery is played out well, with Hal standing in for readers keen to point the finger and jump into action on the slightest of clues. This is an assured debut and is part of another strong year for new voices in Australian crime fiction.