DAY’S END By Garry Disher (Text Publishing)
Few, if any, do outback crime consistently as well as Garry Disher.
Day’s End is the fourth in his series about struggling South Australian rural policeman Constable Paul (Hirsch) Hirschhausen and once again it sets the standard in rural Australian crime.
Set during the COVID pandemic, Day’s End opens with Hirsch putting everything into perspective:
“Out in that country, if you owned a sheep station the size of a European principality you stood tall. If you were a rent-paying public servant, like Hirsch, you stood on the summit of Desolation Hill.
Not much of a hill – but it was desolate.”
Day’s End finds Hirsch managing his usual range of minor crimes, including car theft, cyber-bullying of a schoolgirl and a range of small time scams. Complicating matters are the tensions arising from the pandemic and the “Covid morons” who refuse to get vaccinated and are attacking those with masks. The discovery of a body in a suitcase further escalates tensions, as does the arrival of a Swedish forensic scientist, Dr Janne Van Sant, who is trying to find out what happened to her backpacking son, who went missing while the international borders were closed.
This is a timely, well-crafted crime novel that excels in its characterisations and the subtlety of its plotting. Disher takes a little while to put the various strands of his story in place, but once underway the various sub-plots move along at a good pace, often heading in unexpected directions. He keeps a good grip on the assorted storylines, and skillfully builds the tension as the various elements come together in a violent conclusion.
The depiction of rural South Australia rings true and Disher shares Ian Rankin’s ability to capture the mood of a location through his vivid descriptions of the setting. He also ably portrays the mood and detail of community policing in a remote rural area, both the scope of the countryside and the smallness of the villages:
“Patrol Day. … as many as ten hours on the road, out in the back country, calling on the lonely, the troubled and the troublesome. It was routine for Hirsch to cover a few hundred kilometres on a patrol day.”
“Muncowie … he called in a once a week if he could, even though the place rarely mustered up the energy for bad behaviour. Bad thoughts, maybe. Too small, too forgotten, too purposeless for anything else. A shop, a pub and a handful of houses on a crosshatch of six streets.”
Hirsch is a very well rounded character. The pandemic and some horrific events make him more reflective this time around, but he is a very capable detective and Disher skillfully captures his strengths and weaknesses. He also does a very good job at reflecting the tensions within the police force between the various units, and the patronising approach of the ‘big city cops’ towards their rural colleagues.
The story is interesting and Disher makes good use of the pandemic to examine current issues, such as the rise of extreme right wing groups and the influence of social media.
Personally, the pacing was a little slow at the beginning for me, but it did pick up as the book progressed, and I really enjoyed the breadth of the book’s concerns and Disher’s mature handling of some sensitive issues. The ending was very good and packed a strong punch. I also liked the addition of Janne Van Sant and her outsider reflections on Australia, particularly our curious placenames, and her understated competence.
In all, Day’s End is a very good book that once more confirms Disher’s place as a master of outback noir. Four to four and a half stars out of five!
I feel that I should point out, that there are some disturbing scenes involving very young children and animals. These are relevant to the story, and are not gratuitous, but are they are very powerful and may distress some readers.
The Australian edition of Day’s End has a another great cover by Text Publishing and is released on 1 November 2022. It also available on Kindle in the United States on the same day. Unfortunately there does not seem to be a release date for the United Kingdom yet, but it can be purchased from Australian booksellers.
Thanks to Text Publishing and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.