What are the standards for the best crime fiction? Push that one degree further: the best international crime fiction.
Garry Disher's series unfolds on Australia's Mornington Peninsula. BLOOD MOON, released this month, is the fifth volume in the sequence, brought to US readers by Soho Crime. The jacket offers a subtitle of "An Inspector Hal Challis and Sergeant Ellen Destry Investigation." And that's the underlying issue for BLOOD MOON: how will Challis and Destry, who have paid an enormous cost before at last falling into each other's arms (two divorces and some nasty deaths), sort out their romance while working together during the high-stress vacation period when their region is overrun with partying teens, as well as the usual human conundrums of greed, envy, and lust that spark crime around them?
Disher ramps the tension very high, very quickly, with an assault on a priest, and an abused wife, and dark remnants of a previous vacation's crimes creeping out of the shadows. Inspector Challis -- Hal -- is hard-working, thoughtful, and willing to express affection. He's been through a lot, but he hasn't let it freeze his feelings. Disher paints the sweetness of the newly evident love that Hal and Ellen have, as well as the effort that Constable Scobie Sutton puts into trying to reclaim his wife from the talons of a twisted religious group that's taking her away from him and their young daughter. Scobie doesn't have Hal's instinctive grasp of how to handle things, though, and his fumbling will cost the investigative team in time and clarity.
He'd tried his hardest but she wouldn't listen. Scobie felt aggrieved, stuck between two uncomfortable forces: his boss and his wife. Neither one wanted or needed him, it seemed, yet they both held sway over him. ... He boiled inside.
Not as vivid in this volume is the sense of Australia as locale, although the battered wife is an environmental enforcement agent. Nor is there much human cost to the investigators from the violence they witness. I wish Disher had drawn out both these aspects. On the other hand, avoiding excessive gore has become one of the aspects many readers like about this series. Disher's challenge is to sustain and deepen the tensions of the volume without gore or terror. That means the pace is nuanced, the characters change quietly in small ways, and fidelity and acceptance become tools for redemption.
The political pressures and the lab delays in BLOOD MOON ring true; so does anti-women bias within the police department. The book is a good read, compelling and smoothly knit -- and if the good and bad sort out a bit more clearly than has been fashionable, the satisfactions of sleuthing and the sense of justice provide sustained appeal.