January, a miserable month for us living in the northern hemisphere, was redeemed by some excellent crime fiction reading. I read 10 books for crimepieces and perhaps because there was a stong Scandinavian presence, the common theme seemed to be murders set to the backdrop of freezing winters. However, the highlight of my month was set in a much warmer climate, the Australian Desert. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland combined sparky writing with a great sense of place and one of the best female detectives around.
The books I read in January were:
1. Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood. (completed as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge).
2. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart
3. The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner
4. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George
5. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland
6. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (also reviewed for crimesquad.com)
7. The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth
8. The Final Murder by Anne Holt
9. 1222 by Anne Holt
10. Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft
Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for January 2012.
This is the third Australian crime novel I’ve read this year and probably my favourite. I read Adrian Hyland’s Diamond Dove when it first came out in 2007 and loved it but then promptly forgot about the author. A combination of taking part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge and therefore having Australian fiction on my radar and Maxine at Petrona hinting at the quality of Hyland’s latest book, the non fiction Kinglake-350 prompted me to read Gunshot Road, the second Emily Tempest mystery. Hyland seems to have made quite an impact in the UK. My local library had a few copies of both of his books and they seem to have been borrowed regularly. And it’s easy to see why. Hyland’s books are a great read.
Gunshot Road has Emily Tempest who is half Aborigine working as an Aboriginal Community Police Officer in the outback town of Bluebush. Although most of her work involves dealing with the fights between the town’s miners and meatworkers the death of an old friend, the geologist Doc, has her trying to extricate his friend Wireless from taking the blame.
Like Diamond Dove, the book’s greatest asset is the wonderful character of Emily Tempest. As I was reading the book, I kept thinking what a masculine character Hyland has made her. Her attitude to drinking, relationships and policing all had a male feel, far more than I get from other feisty heroines such as Kinsey Millhone or VI Warshawshi. But my theory proved to be a big mistake because the rough justice meted out in the Australian desert is particularly vicious for women, as Emily finds out for herself.
The language of the book is just wonderful. I loved the Aussie dialect and thought some of the turns of phrases really wonderful. There’s little room for sentimentality in Hyland’s writing, despite the evocative descriptions of the desert and this casualness really made the narrative move at a pace and with a wry humour. There is a great sense of place, despite the fact that I really don’t know anything about the Northern Territories where the book is set, it didn’t seem to matter. I felt part of the whole rough community and could see the person that you would need to be to survive in such a place, where racism and drug and alcohol fuelled violence is endemic. It is a really wonderful book and I would love now to read Kinglake-350 but is seems to have disappeared from the UK Amazon site. Any ideas where it has gone?
There are some excellent reviews of this book at The Games Afoot, Petrona and at Reactions to Reading.