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by Garry Disher
Soho Crime, August 2004
246 pages
ISBN: 1569473560

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Garry Disher is an extremely talented author who has not received nearly the acclaim that he should outside of his native Australia. Nominated for the Ned Kelly Award and the Booker Award, Disher has written 32 books. He is best known for the Wyatt crime fiction series. With the publication of THE DRAGON MAN, Disher may finally see his fine work acknowledged. The first in a new series, the book is a police procedural that completely engages the reader.

Detective Inspector Hal Challis is a senior homicide investigator who works in the Peninsula area southeast of Melbourne, Australia. He works with the local police departments in the area, where he can lend his expertise when they face a case that is outside of their normal repertoire of crimes.

He's been called to Waterloo to assist in investigating the murder/rape of a young woman who had been traveling on the old Peninsular Highway. When a second woman is murdered under similar circumstances, it appears that a serial killer may be at work.

Challis works with the members of the local CIB (Crime Investigation Bureau) and serves as the team leader. It is an interesting group of officers, from the personally conflicted sergeant, Ellen Destry, to a young female officer, Pam Murphy, who is very perceptive. There are two rogue detectives who are upsetting the locals, one through his thug-like actions and the other who is crossing the line of the law in his relationship with a local woman who has her own demons.

The strength of the book lies in watching each of these characters on and off the job, as well as observing the goings-on of the local populace, in particular, two young men who are heading for serious trouble. Although Challis is heading the unit for this investigation, each of the secondary police characters gets a lot of page time as well. The setting is wonderfully detailed, down to the daily nuances of managing things like an adequate water supply in a drought-ridden area.

The plotting is the only area that shows weakness. The serial killer thread is not really fully developed in terms of the perpetrator (who I found absurdly easy to identify!), and the resolution is cobbled together a bit too quickly.

Hal is known as the Dragon Man, not as a reference to anything having to do with his personality but rather because he likes to restore old airplanes as a hobby. The one he is working on now is the Dragon Rapide, and is likely to take him many years to rebuild. That kind of detail is provided for most of the characters, which serves to make them fully dimensional and memorable.

I hope that THE DRAGON MAN will meet huge success so that Disher's work is more readily available outside of Australia. The premise that he uses here with Challis leading investigations in different local communities has tremendous possibilities for future books in a series. Add to that the fact that Disher's writing is wonderful: introspective, richly-textured and nicely complex. Conclusion: THE DRAGON MAN is a winner.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, January 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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