“Fast-paced, funny, and believable” – Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher

‘You do not drop another police member in the shit.’ Sergeant Kropp snarls. Hirsch calibrates the situation differently and demands an answer: ‘So anything’s allowed? Because you both wear the uniform and swore the oath, he’s allowed to commit crimes? You’re allowed to be a fuck-up?’
‘I didn’t fuck up.’
‘You took your eye off the ball, you said it yourself.’

This verbal spat between Sergeant Kropp and his newest officer, Constable Paul Hirschhausen, demarcates a deep metaphysical divide over the amount of respect that should be conveyed on police officers who wear the same uniform. Kropp believes loyalty is sacrosanct. This elemental conflict between the role of law enforcement is at this novel’s core.

As the novel opens, Hirsch has only been stationed for three weeks at Tiverton in “Sheepshit West, South Australia.” He arrives at his new post with baggage: a broken marriage and a reputation for not being a team player. Most importantly, he’s been stained as a traitor due to his role in bringing down a dirty cop. In Kropp’s eyes, Hirsch has besmirched the badge: ‘I don’t care if a fellow police member swindles the Children’s Hospital and violates a busload of nuns. You do not betray him.’

Hirsch is a laconic, likeable, smart-ass who is struggling to fit into a complicated situation where the antipathy from his colleagues verges on parody. He is soon assigned to two murders. First, Hirsch investigates the obvious hit-and-run-death of a young girl who has a reputation for hitchhiking and rowdiness. Rumours in this small town connect her to sex parties organised for the town’s powerbrokers. Another case seems to be a self-inflicted gunshot death of the wife of a mate of Kropp’s. When Hirsch expresses reservations about the suicide conclusion, Kropp removes him from the case.

Kropp manages Tiverton like his own private fraternity, blatantly providing favours to his mates who brandish their allegiances and friendships like get-out-of-jail-cards. He is especially hated by the aboriginals who experience the brunt of his department’s force.

Hirsch is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek, sardonic protagonist. He is perceptive: ‘He was always meeting men and women who had the emotional intelligence of a slab of concrete, but it never failed to surprise him.’ He quickly recognises the signs of a woman’s hard life and empathises with her: ‘a tousled forty, with a pretty but weathered face, the face of someone deeply fatigued or a drinker with her good looks accelerating downhill.’ Hirsch is not above expressing interest in the opposite sex. He watched her ‘walking away from him, her rear shapely, a smudge of engine oil on the seat of her jeans and one pocket torn. God Hirsch was lonely.’

The novel is fast-paced, funny, and believable. Its complicated plot is nuanced and maintained my interest without forcing me to read through too many hoops or swallow lots of red herrings. Hirsch generally sniffs out the next move against him (especially those that are telegraphed) because he is smart and his enemies are dumb and overconfident. The novel’s secondary characters were dusted with enough ambiguity to question whether they can be trusted.

Any Cop?: Although Garry Disher has written over 50 books in nearly every genre, his reputation seems primarily built on crime novels: rural noir. I’m looking forward to the next novel in this new series because I’d love to make another visit to Sheepshit West, South Australia.

Chris Oleson

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