Garry Disher is arguably Australia's greatest living crime writer. His award-winning talent was again recognised in August, when his novel, Consolation, won the Ned Kelly Award for the best crime novel of the year.
The judges praised Disher's "masterly writing of place and landscape". This skill is again on display in his latest novel, The Way It Is Now, set in a small seaside town on the Mornington peninsula.
In the early morning of Christmas Day, the sea on Menlo Beach is "perfect glass-like water . . .the beach as a cathedral . . . morning prayers and benedictions. Usually the beach was implicit with loss: lost coins, lost jewellery, lost virginity, lost lives. Sandcastles, footprints and hopscotch ladders lost to the clawing tidewater."
Disher sets his novel over the summer of 2019/2020. The bushfires are raging and there are reports of a mysterious virus in China. Senior Constable Charlie Deravin has returned to live in his childhood home after his divorce.
He is also suspended from the police force, having assaulted a senior officer. The assault is out of character as Charlie is a serious, introspective man of few words.
Twenty years earlier, his mother had gone missing, believed murdered, but her body has never been found. Charlie's father, Detective Sergeant Rhys Deravin, was a suspect and Charlie's elder brother Liam believed his father guilty. They have been estranged ever since.
However, "Charlie had rarely been able to discuss his mother's fate with anyone. A twenty-year no go area". But he has been investigating in his spare time, following up every possible lead in trying to track down her old lodger, Shane Lambert - "No-one else seemed to be looking for who-ever had snatched his mother".
Charlie is disillusioned with his job, telling his therapist, "I'm in the wrong job or I've been in this one too long. I don't see honesty and innocence anymore, I see hidden motives and filth".
The Way It Is Now is more than a crime novel. Disher interweaves current issues seamlessly into his plot. A promising young AFL footballer, from a privileged background, rapes his girlfriend in the club carpark. His mates protect him, "the bitch is lying" and his wealthy family fund his clever defence lawyer who demolishes the girl and her evidence at the trial.
Charlie's retired father and his second wife take a cruise to Japan and fall ill with the COVID virus. Charlie's therapist holidays in Mallacoota and "reality-show idiots become presidents and marketing-executive prime ministers asked what God would do in their shoes".
Disher deploys a keen forensic eye in this masterly, thought-provoking writing.
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