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SIGNAL LOSS
by Gary Disher
Soho, December 2017
345 pages
$26.95
ISBN: 1616958596


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Garry Disher has written a great many books. You'd think he might run out of material, or simply grow tired of collecting Ned Kelly awards and publishing more than fifty books. Many a writer starts phoning it in, but Disher can't seem to help himself. His latest in the Hal Challis and Ellen Destry series, set on Australia's Mornington Peninsula, is as good as it gets if realistic police procedurals are your thing.

As the book opens, we meet two nasty characters who have gone to the countryside to do a job. They're not sure why they're being paid so much to take out a meth head, and they try to get some information out of him, but they're better at their profession than they are at interrogation. Job done, they drive off to collect their fee, but it's hot and dry in Australia. A brush fire has turned dangerously large and fast-moving and the two hit men, who don't know the terrain, make a wrong turn.

That leaves Hal Challis and his team with a murder scene and a puzzle: who are the two men whose charred remains are found in a burnt-out Mercedes? Things get more complicated when a drugs investigator arrives from the big city, itching to take over the murder of his small-town meth addict, but that's a problem: Another addict's little girl has disappeared, taken as collateral but likely to end up trafficked if they don't find her fast. Challis doesn't want her fate to slip through the cracks of a major drugs investigation that's more interested in busting a drug ring than in small children and their hapless families.

Challis's former partner at work and current partner in love has a nasty case of her own. At first it simply seems like a series of home invasions, the loss of some televisions and jewelry, a cell phone or two. Then a sharp officer, interviewing a victim, begins to realize there was more lost than property. Someone who may have started out as a burglar has moved on to serial rape. Destry has to revisit old cases and ask difficult questions while worrying about stopping an escalating pattern of sexual violence.

There's a lot going on, but Disher knows when to switch from one story line to another, a foot gently pressed on the accelerator at just the right pace, and the characters are vivid enough there's no chance we'll lose track of them. What really makes this series stand out, though, is Disher's laconic but strikingly evocative prose and pitch-perfect dialogue. No extra words. Lots of sly humor. Moments of grace.

There's no need to read the previous six books in the series to enjoy SIGNAL LOSS. Disher's an old hand who knows how to build a book that can stand on its own. But then - why deny yourself the pleasure?

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, November 2017

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