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?
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.