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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Carefully crafted story of interwoven strands

Author Garry Disher… “a giant not only of crime fiction but of Australian letters”. Photo: Darren James

ANNA CREER reviews two new crime books set in regional Australia, one written with skilfully interwoven strands, the other tense and dramatic.

Garry Disher is arguably Australia’s greatest living crime writer. 

Anna Creer.

In 2018 he received the Australian Crime writers’ Association’s Ned Kelly award, the most prestigious literary prize for crime fiction in Australia, describing him as “a giant not only of crime fiction but of Australian letters”.

Disher has created many memorable characters and he introduces another in his latest standalone novel, Sanctuary.

Raised in foster homes, Grace has been a thief since childhood. But she’s no ordinary thief. Grace knows the value of rare and objet d’art from stamps to watches to paintings and antiques – “To handle, look or understand the story behind a beautiful painting, stamp or brooch made her feel better about herself.”

Grace is also a chameleon, able to quickly alter her appearance to blend in or to become invisible. She knows when to walk away from a job, knows the escape routes, “keep the job simple, quiet and unobtrusive… and always have a plan B, which was a way of saying always plan for and expect the worst”. Her caution has kept her alive.

At the Brisbane Stamp Fair she glimpses Adam Garrett, her foster brother and former associate in crime but, when they both had targetted a rare Jaeger-LeCoutre watch, Grace gets there first and she knows Adam wants revenge.

Sanctuary by Garry Disher.

Grace goes on the run through rural NSW and into Victoria. By the time she reaches SA, she’s running out of money. In the small town of Battendorf in the Adelaide Hills, she takes a job in an antique shop owned by Erin Mandel. She seems to have found a refuge, somewhere to hide.

A friendship develops between Grace and Erin and Grace begins to feel at home, forgetting the caution that has kept her alive.

But Grace doesn’t know that Erin is in hiding, too, and someone is looking for her.

Disher’s crime fiction is far from simple. He admits he has developed techniques to enrich his fiction, including “carefully placed turning points with buried secrets coming to the surface, getting the reader to exercise their mind about the wrong issue”.

As a result, Sanctuary is a carefully crafted story of many skilfully interwoven strands. Disher builds sympathy for Grace, despite her many faults, in a disturbing story about predatory angry men and their victims.

SA author, Vikki Wakefield in her latest novel, To the River, also explores the plight of a young woman on the run.

While Disher uses the small towns of the Adelaide Hills as a place of sanctuary for Grace, Wakefield turns to the Murraylands and Riverland region when creating a refuge for her main character.

Twelve years ago, 17-year-old Sabine Kelly was arrested for murder after a series of devastating fires at the caravan park where she lived killed nine people including her mother and sister, and a police officer. 

However, she managed to escape and, despite there being a reward of $100,000 for information leading to her discovery, has eluded capture ever since.

To the River by Vikki Wakefield.

Sabine’s childhood has been difficult. Her mother was a known drug addict and dealer. To the people of the town and the police, the Kelly family was trouble.

For 12 years, Sabine has lived on the river on an ageing houseboat owned by her grandfather Ray, with a faithful dog, Blue for company. A small network of friends has been her only support.

However, when she stops at the grandfather’s riverside shack, she meets his neighbour Rachel Weidermann, a journalist, and she decides it’s time to tell her story and seek justice.

Rachel had seen Sabine briefly four years earlier outside Ray Kelly’s shack and since then has investigated until “she knows everything about the case. Her mild interest had grown into an obsession. It’s the kind of story that could make her career”.

Rachel needs a big story. Recently divorced after her husband of 27 years began an affair with a younger woman and, although she has managed to keep the riverside house, she’s using her redundancy package to pay the mortgage and, as a freelance journalist, she’s become dependent on her diminishing savings.

But there are powerful people who don’t want Sabine’s story told and, as the two very different women learn to trust each other, inevitably they realise their lives are in danger.

The fragility of the mirror’s ecosystem mirrors the fragility of Sabine and Rachel in their struggle to survive. To the River is tense, dramatic and compulsive reading.

 

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