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Signal Loss: A Hal Challis Investigation


Signal Loss: A Hal Challis Investigation

Garry Disher is not a literary household name in the United States (though he is in my house!). He is, however, extremely well known and popular in his native Australia, having won that country’s prestigious Ned Kelly Award on two separate occasions. Disher doesn’t confine himself to crime fiction; his bibliography could fill a small bookcase, and includes children’s books and Australian history treatises. But his bread-and-vegemite is the crime fiction genre, which is where he really shines.

That brings us to the newly published SIGNAL LOSS, which is the latest installment in Disher’s Hal Challis/Ellen Destry series. Challis is a police inspector on Australia’s peninsula, while Destry heads the department’s sex crimes unit. Both are very believable soulmates who are able to balance and separate their personal and professional lives. This pairing gives Disher the opportunity to spin at least a couple of different storylines within the boundaries of each book, and without them necessarily intersecting. The happy result of this is that one never knows how each adventure is going to proceed through to its resolution. Each trip is wonderful, and SIGNAL LOSS is no exception.

"As with the best of police procedural novels, there is some dark humor to be had and plenty of suspense and tension as well."

Interestingly enough, the beginning of the novel puts one in the mind of Elmore Leonard. A couple of hit men dispatched to the Victoria area of Australia are tasked with a murder for hire. Neither are the sharpest needles in the tray. They get the idea that they can possibly increase their hire fee with a side project, with unpredictably disastrous results. The fallout from this resonates throughout the book. The target of the hit, a loser named Owen Valentine, is reported missing afterward, and the search for him uncovers a theft ring, among other things. Worse, though, is that Valentine’s young daughter goes missing as well. The reader knows what has happened to Valentine, but is in the dark concerning his daughter’s fate.

Disher leaves that latter mystery to the last third of the book, with Destry being the hero of the day, tossing in a believable bit of the Australian equivalent of the Keystone Cops before things settle down. Destry is also involved in the hunt for the instigator of a series of sexual assaults, and somehow manages to find time to conduct a bit of detective work for a family member who has no idea what they have gotten into romantically. But it is Challis who is concerned with the primary plot, which involves grand theft, drugs and, of course, murder, before everything is ultimately sorted out.

Disher has the unique ability to present the complex without making it complicated, a talent that he thoroughly demonstrates here. As with the best of police procedural novels, there is some dark humor to be had and plenty of suspense and tension as well. Disher’s characters, lawful and otherwise, are instantly memorable, even if they don’t make it from first page to last in all cases. It would be great to have Disher break through in the United States to the same extent that he has in Australia. All things being equal, SIGNAL LOSS just might be the book to do it for him.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 5, 2018

Signal Loss: A Hal Challis Investigation
by Garry Disher

  • Publication Date: December 12, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1616958596
  • ISBN-13: 9781616958596