Canticle Creek, Adrian Hyland
It's been way. too. long. since the last Emily Tempest novel from Adrian Hyland was published. Been way too long since anything from Adrian Hyland was published, so I will admit to some serious stack reshuffling when CANTICLE CREEK arrived. Not a shred of disappointment about the decision to sit down and read the first novel featuring NT Police Officer Jesse Redpath. (I say first novel with some determination - this is a series in the making if there ever was one).
Jesse Redpath is a cop in the small NT community around Kulara, and she was more than prepared to stick her neck out with the court system when local Adam Lawson got into a spot of legal trouble. Setting him up to live with her eccentric artist father, she's shocked and confused to find he vanished from there, only to die, supposedly fleeing the scene of a murder, in a small community in the hills outside Melbourne. Luckily an invitation for her father to exhibit some art in Melbourne gives Jesse and her Dad a reason to head down to Victoria, and do a bit of snooping around. Neither of them can believe that Adam would kill his girlfriend Daisy, and everything about the case, including his car leaving the road when he was supposedly attempting to flee with scene, makes any sense.
Jesse's a fabulous, strong, believable character who arrives in Victoria determined to find the truth no matter what. Supported in her determination by her father, they end up staying in the small artistic community that Daisy and Adam had lived in, digging into some dodgy logging practices, unearthing some suspect connections to Melbourne mobsters along the way. There's plenty of threat, personal and community based, and there's a good supporting cast, as well as fabulous sense of a place. Not specifically named, I'd be prepared to take a relatively informed guess is influenced by the area around the Kinglake Ranges.
A gripping murder mystery at it's heart, with a clever, deftly constructed and extremely believable plot, Hyland uses this opportunity to celebrate natural beauty in the experience of his characters, and through the eyes of the artists he's incorporated in his cast of well-constructed people. He has a particular skill when it comes to writing female viewpoints, from Jesse, through to Possum, the teenage friend of Daisy, and Possum's own family (with whom the Redpath's are staying). The observations and asides of these people build a picture of the location, and the characters within it in a very natural, Australian way, and he knows exactly how to convey dialogue, and cadence of speech amongst friends and strangers that just works. Then there's the depiction of fire in a drought ridden landscape that's terrifying and informative.
Hyland's always been one of my unsung heroes of Australian Crime Fiction. His characterisations are right up there with the best of them, his dry wit and dialogue as good as it gets, and his understanding and observation of the landscape perfect. Every single Indigenous character he brings to the page is beautifully executed, and his respect and love of the people and their interactions with country and each other has always been spot on. As it is again with Jesse Redpath, and her belief in a young man who deserved better than the dismissive assumptions of those that didn't know him, didn't try to understand him, and were more than happy to use him as a convenient scapegoat, and a young woman whose death deserved a lot more than the cursory investigation undertaken.
Two bodies. One long hot summer. A town that will never be the same.
When Adam Lawson’s wrecked car is found a kilometre from Daisy Baker’s body, the whole town assumes it’s an open and shut case. But Jesse Redpath isn’t from Canticle Creek. Where she comes from, the truth often hides in plain sight, but only if you know where to look.
When Jesse starts to ask awkward questions, she uncovers a town full of contradictions and a cast of characters with dark pasts, secrets to hide and even more to lose.
As the temperature soars, and the ground bakes, the wilderness surrounding Canticle Creek becomes a powderkeg waiting to explode.
All it needs is one spark.