Book review: Bitter Wash Road

Bitter WashGarry Disher has been writing crime fiction for longer than I’ve been reading it.

I love his work and think his books are getting better and better.

If you want proof, check out his latest novel, Bitter Wash Road.

Unlike Disher’s other crime fiction, the Wyatt series and the Challis and Destry police procedurals, Bitter Wash Road is intended as a stand alone.

The story is told from the perspective of Hirsch, a whistle blowing cop, him self under suspicion of corruption, who has been exiled to a one-man police station in the small town of Tiverton, located in dry wheat and wool country south of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

The first few chapters are a master class in class in how to write a tense, atmospheric crime thriller.

Called out to investigate a report of shots being fired on Bitter Wash Road, Hirsch ends up being the first cop on the scene of a terrible crime, a young local girl found dead in a ditch.

The dead girl had a reputation for being a bit wild, a taste for hitch hiking, with all the innuendo that goes with it. Everyone, including his boss, an old school cop called Kropp, thinks it is a hit and run. Hirsch is not convinced.

Kropp wants Hirsch investigating stolen sheep and house break-ins, not poking his nose in where it is not wanted by looking into the girl’s death. But Hirsch won’t be deterred.

Is Kropp just being antagonistic because of Hirsch’s reputation as a whistle blower or is he hiding something?

There are so many things I liked about this book. The central crime and its perpetrators and complex, real and brilliantly revealed.

Hirsch is a great character, tough, solitary, a touch of the mongrel about him. He’s not particularly sympathetic and it is unclear whether he’s not also guilty of some of the very corruption he’s denounced in other police.

Disher has also excelled at creating a menacing air of paranoia resulting from his status as an outcast from the rest of the police due to whistle blowing.

Last but not least,  is the terrific writing, both descriptions of physical location and of people and situations.

It was late in the afternoon before the accident investigators arrived. Hirsch wanted to hang around and talk about what he’d been thinking but they ignored. Two men and one woman conscious of the dwindling light, the sun smearing itself across the horizon, long shadows playing visual tricks. They took their photos, measured distances, crouched and poked and grid-searched and marked up their diagrams.

You’re blocking the light,’ the female officer said. Her tone indicated she knew exactly who Hirsch was.

Bitter Wash Road is a complex, slow burn thriller from a writer at the top of his game. It’s one of Disher’s darkest books yet and, in my opinion, one of his best.

Bitter Wash Road is out through Text Publishing


10 Responses

  1. Heavy sigh – another one to be added to an ever-increasing wish-list. Though I ought to pull my finger out and read some of his earlier books you mentioned. Cheers – I think!

    • It depends what you are in to. His Wyatt books are his – largely successful – attempt to do an Australian version of Richard Stark’s Parker. The Challis & Destry books are well crafted but not to my taste. As I said, this is his best book yet and as good a place to start as any.

  2. Agree with you totally. A great book.

  3. great review Andrew and i agree – this is a terrific book. I’m sure you probably prefer Disher’s Wyatt novels whereas I prefer the Challis and Destry ones but interestingly we can meet in the middle and agree that this is one of his best 🙂 I’m not sure it’s going to be a standalone though…Disher was on RN’s Books & Arts a couple of weeks ago and hinted that Hirsch might be makiing a return.

    • Nice to hear from you, Bernadette.
      When interviewed Disher at the recent Crime and Justice Festival, he also hinted that Hirsch would make a return. I think he has been taken by surprise a bit at how popular Bitter Wash Road has been.
      He also said he had a new Wyatt on the way. Good news because, as you say, I love that series.

  4. Gary Disher is an author I’ve been meaning to read for the longest time. Thanks for this review.

  5. I have read one Challis and Destry police procedural, with plans to read more. I also want to try the Wyatt series, and here’s another one to try. Great review.

  6. Great review Andrew. I, too, enjoyed this book immensely and reviewed it on Goodreads. I’m a huge Disher fan, especially loving the Peninsula series. Also a huge fan of the Wyatt series, this guy is one of the best crime writers in Australia. He’s in the Peter Temple class for mine. I’m really glad Bitter Wash Road has been successful to the point he is considering another Hirsch tome. Keep up the good work. Cheers 🙂

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