Monday, January 21, 2013

Garry Disher, WHISPERING DEATH: Police Procedural with Depth

Australian Garry Disher writes two series of mysteries that I follow closely: his very dark and violent Wyatt group, where the protagonist is a sociopath that Wyatt manages to present in ways that let readers sympathize with (what does that say about our inner selves?); and the Hal Challis/Ellen Destry series, in which WHISPERING DEATH is title six.  I look forward to each Challis/Destry mystery, both for the Australian police procedural aspects (Disher usually include cross-jurisdiction conflict and challenges within the police force, such as sexual discrimination and political pressure), and for the warmth of Challis as a conflicted yet committed person of "good heart."

Reading WHISPERING DEATH will be a spoiler for some of the earlier books, so if you haven't yet read them, I strongly recommend starting at the beginning, with Dragon Man, which Soho Crime brought to the US in 2005. But if you're headed directly into this newest book instead, you'll find plenty of background to let you enjoy it directly. The only part seriously missing is Challis's lover Ellen Destry herself, as she's headed away on a European training in her newly embraced field of solving sex crimes. But her role as investigator of this aspect is quickly assumed by the edgy and sharp sergeant Jeannie Schiff, on hand to help deal with the crime that Challis's team needs to rapidly resolve.
"Thanks for coming down," Challis said. "As I said on the phone, our sexual offences team isn't in place yet, so we could do with some help."

"Well, yeah," drawled Schiff. "Abduction and rape? A bit different from some sad bloke waving his penis at schoolgirls." Her voice was raspy, low, not unpleasant, but sharp underneath.
Disher sets up, at the same time, a different sort of serial criminal in action in the same terrain: a career burglar with an eye for high-value items, including artwork. Grace -- clearly a pseudonym for some of her crimes, but still significant as a name -- is a highly trained pro, with rules for her operations, and plenty of financial success from them. But on the inside, she's desperate for the connections that her career forbids, and she's also close to being a sociopath herself: isolated, with feelings cut away, and a past that speaks of abuse and loss. Because she tend to rob empty houses in carefully planned heists, she isn't as violent as Wyatt, the grim criminal in Disher's other series. Yet I kept hearing Wyatt's voice in Grace's. So the two series are echoing in each other.

If you explore the series in sequence, you'll have the delight of seeing Disher's writing become ever tighter, every more impeccably paced. Even the dialogue, inner and between characters, ascends in skill, to the point where conversations in WHISPERING DEATH have clearly been fine-tuned, one word at a time, for maximum impact and elegant revelation of character. Disher is now being called a grand master in the field, and I agree.

One last note on this book: Sure, there's violent crime in it. But what drew me through the pages, turning me antisocial for the weekend, was the affection, comradeship, and commitment that Disher's characters exhibit. And that's what I'll remember most about WHISPERING DEATH: the goodness in the ordinary police detectives, that positions them in true opposition to the forces of evil.

PS -- Click here for other Kingdom Books reviews of Disher's books.

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