Book review: Peace by Garry Disher

Garry Disher's Peace is Australian neo-noir, where the writing as bare and as hard as the landscape.
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Garry Disher's Peace is Australian neo-noir, where the writing as bare and as hard as the landscape.

The bleached semi-arid country south of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia is blasted, beautiful, and unforgiving. Farming is a risky business. Constable Paul Hirschhausen – Hirsch – singlehandedly runs the district's police station. He has been seconded to the area after a run-in with corrupt city cops tarnished his reputation.

It is the pre-Christmas season in a small town. Opportunistic break-ins target gift-wrapped presents waiting under aluminium trees. A ute is stolen. Fiery Brenda Flann drunkenly rams her car into the pub veranda. Vast amounts of territory need to be covered by Hirsch and his stretched resources.

Then a sickening midnight attack involving miniature ponies changes things. A woman leaves a young child in a carseat in the heat as she visits a doctor and lies about her name and address. Sydney police phone up and want an unusual check on a family living on the outskirts of town.

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They are all the beginnings of a case which will involve a sequence of murders and an influx of federal and state police. Hirsch's life and his relationship with his girlfriend and her daughter is up-ended. TV news crews crowd the streets.

Garry Disher's Peace is Australian neo-noir. The writing as bare and as hard as the landscape of its setting – spare sentences plot hidden passions and explosive violence. The dry fields, dust, and the melting, shimmering bitumen overwhelms private worlds.

It is a finely paced literary thriller. Disher edges his reader into a world where the celebratory days over the Christmas break will reveal savage mysteries that go to the heart of everything. The seasonal minutiae of small-town life becomes the backdrop to much greater events.

Peace is rooted deep in a country and its people. Just as Scandinavia and Ireland have produced their own particular noir, so too the Australian version has its own features. While the landscape may be wide and open under the blue heated sky, the lives of the people are locked deep. Secrets abound.

Disher is expert in his set-up and the increasing tension. It would be a rare reader to get to the close of the novel without being gripped by the plot and the proximity of resolve. It is a book where initial surface illusions are stripped back to the very basics.

In Hirsch, Disher has found a character who is sympathetic and likable, living in a world that too often has brought out the worst in men and women. Peace goes beyond escapist fiction to accurately depict a sunburnt country and the lives it creates.

Peace by Garry Disher (Text, $37)

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