RARA-AVIS: Procedural month: Garry Disher

From: Al Guthrie ( allanguthrie@ukonline.co.uk)
Date: 03 Sep 2002

Garry Disher is known for his kids books and the Wyatt series. At least, that's what I thought. I had no idea he had written a police procedural until my brother returned from holiday in Australia bearing gifts, one of which was Disher's THE DRAGON MAN. Set in The Peninsula (there aren't any geographical pointers - I had to consult a map. The Peninsula stretches out from the mainland like a leg with a pointy-toed foot just west of Adelaide) the main focus of the local police force's investigation is the capture of a serial killer who's preying on young women. Of course, being a multiple viewpoint Ed McBain-type procedural, the police have lots of other concurrent investigations demanding their time.

Two aspects of this book stood out. The first was the quality of the writing: not a single wasted word. The second was the complexity of the relationships between certain characters. For example, one of the cops is sleeping with a woman who has a coke habit. The coke makes her nervous, paranoid even. Nevertheless, the cop agrees to supply her in the self-deluding belief that the coke helps calm her down. What he doesn't know is that her anxiety isn't drug-induced. It is based on the fact that she sold out some of her old criminal acquaintances, and was placed in New Zealand's witness protection program. She was seen leaving the country and she knows if they find her she's dead. She can't tell the one person (the cop) who might be able to help her. She doesn't trust him enough. Hence
(this is my understanding) the test: he must adopt the role of drug dealer to demonstrate the risks he's prepared to take for her. Of course, when he does, she hates him for feeding her habit, he hates himself for feeding her habit, and such mutual self-loathing doesn't engender much trust.

(or it might be misleading)


In terms of plot, this is a whodunnit. The identity of the serial killer came as no surprise to me. I concluded for the nth time: in multiple viewpoint whodunnits the killer is the character whose viewpoint is least represented in normal third person (not including first person italicised, or anonymous third person). There were two significant characters with no viewpoint representation. One was far too obvious. Had to be the other.

I may be like a man with a winning betting system, though. Lucky.


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