The Dragon Man by Gary Disher (1999) – The first Hal Challis mystery is set in the
Peninsula on the edge of at Christmas time. It is hot and dry and young women are being sexually assaulted and killed. Melbourne
Detective Inspector Challis has few clues. The killer wears latex and does not leave his vehicle to dump the bodies. The victims have no connections. No one has seen anything.
Uncommon tire treads are a slender lead. As the only real clue the police make a major effort to track down sales of these tires.
Within the local police station few of the officers are looking forward to the holiday. Strained or broken relationships have left them with more dread than joy of the year’s greatest family celebration.
The solitary life of Challis is punctuated by calls from his wife in jail. She has been imprisoned for attempting, with her lover, to murder him. The calls are as sad as any I have read in fiction.
Christmas arrives in the midst of the investigation. It proves a difficult day for the police and their families. It is a blue Christmas on the
Aggravating the police and frightening the public are a series of letters from the killer to the local newspaper mocking the police investigation.
While police resources are concentrated on finding the killer they must still deal with the continuing local crimes.
Unlike most crime fiction involving the police there are multiple detailed police characters. Sgt. Ellen Destry, Sgt. Kees Van Alphen, Const. Scobie Sutton, Const. Pam Murphy and Const. John Tankard all have extensive roles in the book. The police station comes alive through their portrayals. Each of them has significant personal issues.
With the investigation stalling pressure builds upon the police. Superintendent, Mark McQuarrie, more skilled at detecting political currents than solving crimes, presses for results.
Challis keeps his men and women searching but clues remain elusive. When the break comes the book builds to a dramatic conclusion.
The Dragon Man, written over a decade ago, is an impressive debut mystery. I appreciate Kerrie from her blog, Mysteries in
Paradise, and Bernadette at her blog, Reactions to , for their recommendations of Disher. Reading
Bill - Thanks as ever for an excellent review. That's one thing I like about well-written police procedurals. We learn not just about the crime(s) and the investigation(s). We also learn about the characters and their lives. That's not an easy thing to do without making a story too convoluted. I need to read more of Disher's work, and your post has reminded me of that...ReplyDelete
Margot: Thanks for the comment. I have come to appreciate development of characters and settings in mystery. No longer is a good "mystery" enough.ReplyDelete
I very much enjoyed this book, and the next two in the series. I plan to read the rest sometime, but the Australian editions are expensive here (we are used to big discounts for books published in the UK, and only the first two were published here). I really like the sense of place/atmosphere in these books, and like you I appreciated the ensemble nature of the police team - which reminded me a bit of Sjowall/Wahloo's Martin Beck books.ReplyDelete
Maxine: Thanks for the comment. I have the second in the series and will probably read it late this year.ReplyDelete
I was reminded abit of Ed McBain's 8th Precinct.