20 books of summer, 20 books of summer (2021), Australia, Author, Book review, crime/thriller, Fiction, Garry Disher, Publisher, Setting, Text

‘Peace’ by Garry Disher

Fiction – paperback; Text Publishing; 432 pages; 2020.

Peace is the second in Garry Disher’s trilogy known as “the Paul Hirschhausen novels”.  I read the first, Bitter Wash Road, late last year and considered it one of the best Australian crime novels I had ever read.

This one is just as good, but it’s (pleasingly) not more of the same. There’s a shift in focus to rural policing and the insidious ways in which city crime can seep into isolated locations, helped partly by the rise in social media. There’s also a minor narrative thread about an unrecognised massacre of the local indigenous population by a pioneer of the district, suggesting that crime has always permeated the ground upon which Hirsch now treads.

In fact, it’s the isolated rural setting (the northern part of South Australia, about three hours from Adelaide), which gives this police procedural a distinctive Australian flavour.

In this dry farmland country, Constable Paul “Hirsch” Hirschhausen runs a one-cop station and spends a lot of his time on the road carrying out welfare checks and following up on petty crimes such as vandalism and the theft of household items. But in this novel, set during the supposedly festive season, the crimes Hirsch has to investigate escalate from the predictable Christmas time pub brawls, drunk driving offences and traffic accidents to more serious incidents, including murder.

First, a middle-aged woman from the local “crime family”, crashes her car into the local pub. Later, a young child is locked in a hot car and almost dies.

But when the local pony breeder has several of her show ponies slaughtered in a vicious attack, attracting the attention of the national media, the entire community feels put on alert and Hirsch knows he’s not going to have a particularly peaceful Christmas. Who would brutally stab animals and leave them to die slow, painful deaths? What sort of criminal is living in the town’s midst? And will he (or she) turn their attention to humans next?

The UK edition of Peace

A slow burner, but worth the effort

Peace is a bit of a slow burner and not quite as complex as its predecessor. This novel is more about small-town life, the characters that live in it, the (small) power plays that go on between citizens and the grudges and resentments that people harbour against neighbours and acquaintances.

To get to the bottom of what’s going on, Hirsch must use his social and networking skills as much as his police skills.

It’s only when the “heavy-duty” crime occurs — a murder of a woman in an isolated farmhouse — that the book becomes a proper page-turner involving car chases, line searches and a dogged hunt for the perpetrator. The investigation, which isn’t straightforward, draws in other police, including those from Sydney, some of whom have questionable agendas of their own.

It all makes for a cracking read, one that addresses bullying, animal cruelty, domestic violence and police corruption.

As ever the characterisation is spot on whether Disher is writing about the small town crims, the local male meddler, the dedicated GP, the troubled community “outcast”, the shop girl or the neighbouring police sergeant.

I raced through it in no time, and look forward to reading the final part of the trilogy soon.

Peace was longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award and was a Sunday Times “crime pick of the month” in the UK.

This is my 18th book for #20booksofsummer 2021 edition. I bought it in paperback from my local independent book store in November 2020.

14 thoughts on “‘Peace’ by Garry Disher”

    1. Although this would work as a standalone, I’d recommend reading Bitter Wash Road first. That would provide some good background on Hirsch, whose one of those good cops who has been demoted cos he’s a whistleblower

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  1. I’ve read one Discher crime novel, The Heat, but as always I don’t remember it. I look out for him in the various libraries I use, but apart from The Stencil Man (about an internment camp), that’s the only one I’ve seen.
    I wonder what location Discher had in mind for Peace. Port Augusta, not anyone’s idea of farm country, is 3 hours north of Adelaide on Highway 1, but maybe Peterborough on the inland side of the Flinders Ranges, and right on the edge of outback/desert grazing country.

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    1. The village is named Tiverton in the book but is based on the town Hallett on the Barrier Highway. In the book it’s described as three hours north of Adelaide, three hours south of the Flinders Ranges. Disher is from Burra, which is a little south of Hallet on the map. Apparently he went to primary school in Hallet.

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      1. I’ve often been through Burra – it’s the way we go coming from the west to get to the top corner of Victoria and the roads to Melbourne and Sydney without going via Adelaide.
        Pt Pirie – Jamestown – Hallet – Burra – Morgan has just recently been gazetted as an alternate route for interstate road trains so I’ve been there too.
        I’ll chase the book up. i like reading about country the author knows, especially if I know it too.

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        1. I did wonder if this part of the world might be familiar to you. He writes very evocative descriptions of the landscape and his character drives up and down the Barrier Highway a lot! There are references to people driving to Broken Hill etc. It’s not a part of the world I know but Google Street View shows me the streets are very wide and everything looks quite dry and dusty!

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          1. Coming from the west, we join the Barrier Hwy a little north of Hallet to go to Broken Hill and on to Dubbo and all places north. Dry and dusty is right! No more than 6 inches of rain a year probably.
            If you ever get the chance, visit Burra, it’s an old tin mining town dating back to the 1840s probably. Catherine Helen Spence writes in Clara Morrison of miners abandoning Burra to go to the Victorian Goldfields in the early 1850s (and when you get thirsty the Clare Valley vineyards are just an hour or so away and the Barossa not much further)

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        2. Yes, I’ve been to Burra too, a couple of times, but both briefly. I would like to do the drive to Broken Hill one day to SA, or vice versa, that Disher’s policemen does. I hadn’t realised he came from that area.

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    1. I’m reading the third one (“Consolation”) now… almost finished it in fact… and what I like about his work is that, certainly in the last two in the series, it’s not focused on one BIG crime but lots of crimes all happening at the same time, and I imagine as a rural police officer that’s what it’s like: you have to juggle lots of investigations, some big but most small, and you also have to use your judgement about what to pursue and what to treat a bit more lightly – for example, in this book there’s a couple of kids who steal a car and he has to decide whether to charge them or give them a stern telling off. He chooses the latter.

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