Book Review: Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

Hyland Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

This is simply a marvellous book. It is a crime story, and an
exciting one, but more importantly the book is a poem, full of emotion and
insight. Every sentence is beautiful, as the author depicts a harsh yet rich
landscape that is also a character in the story, seen through the unique
perspective of the most unusual and attractive detective I have come across in
a long while, Emily Tempest.  And as
icing on the cake, there are science jokes – technology and science figure
heavily in the plot, but more interestingly, are as much part of the words on
the page as any other subject addressed by this talented writer.

Emily was the protagonist of Adrian Hyland’s debut novel
Diamond Dove (a.k.a. Moonlight Downs). As in the earlier novel, Gunshot Road is
a story set among the interconnected imagery of “deaths and dreams,
watercourses, tracks and plains”. Emily is half Aborigine, and is half at home
with the nomadic “blackfellers” who live with spirits, songs and taboos, in
parallel with the “whitefeller” Australia of booze and drugs as well as an
alien law and order. She is also half white, courtesy of her father, the miner
and 
Hyland ukgeologist Jack Tempest, and in her education and outlook is as much part of
the “white” world as she’s also part of the ancient, collective spirit of the
tribal culture in the Northern Territory of Australia. 

Emily’s intuition, independence and bravery (told in the
previous novel) have impressed Tom McGillivray, superintendant of the Bluebush
Police Station, so he has made Emily the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer
for the region. As the novel opens, she sets off to take up her post, only to
find Tom is sidelined and his replacement is less than ideal. Almost immediately,
the squad is called in to the case of a murder – two old men have had a drunken
argument and, it is assumed, one has killed the other with a geologist’s pick
while under the influence. Emily knows both men (as she knows most people in
this small but dispersed community) and is not convinced. The main thrust of
what follows is the story of her determination to ignore her superiors as well
as everyone else, and uncover what’s really going on. This, naturally, leads to
all kinds of dangers on the way to full discovery and final resolution.

Gunshot Road is a superior novel to Diamond Dove in that
Emily is a more real, mature person with a clearer sense of where she is headed,
and the story is far more focused, which makes the fantastically portrayed background
and culture much easier to absorb along with the quite complicated plot – the first
half of the novel is packed with witticisms and delightfully pungent, astute
observations, which slacken off somewhat in the second half, where seriousness and
tragedy are more frequent.

Like its predecessor, what makes this book so wonderful is
its empathy and poetry. Emily, and the Aboriginal people, live by different
mores than white Australians, living through dreams, songs and strong 
Hyland us  unspoken taboos
about what may or may not be said. As she tries to do her job in the
“whitefeller” world, Emily is both enabled to discover facts known only to the “blackfellers”
as she understands their sensitivities and they trust her. On the down side, most
of the “whitefellers”, police and civilians, don’t understand, like or even
notice her, so she encounters hideous sexism, abuse, and worse.

This is a novel that must be read. It is superb. The reader
is immersed totally in Emily’s persona and world, so different from anything
that all but a few can have lived or know. The author’s achievement is simply
magnificent. I am lost in admiration for this wonderful piece of writing, in
effect a long prose poem; the author’s identification with his main character
and the very land itself; as well as his multidimensional portrayal of a
cultural group, with its contradictions and flaws, as it coexists with the “civilised”
world of governments, rules and structures, in a strange parallel-but-independent
way, as if the indigenous people are ghosts. The result is magic, in more than
one sense of the word.

——-

I thank Anne Beilby of Text Publishing Australia, for giving me a proof copy of this book at this year's London Book Fair (Australian cover at the top of this post). The novel is published in the USA with the cover at the bottom of this post, by Soho Press (May 2010). It is published in the UK by Quercus on 1 July, with the cover in the middle of the post. The covers are all very different – I prefer the blue (UK) one and also like the Australian one. I really don't like the US cover (picture of person's back).

Read other reviews of this novel at: International Noir Fiction (Glenn compares and contrasts the language of Adrian Hyland with that of Peter Temple), Crime Space (Karen of AustCrime), Kittling: Books, Mysterious Reviews

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

  1. Oh, Maxine, I’ve been wanting to read this very much! I like Hyland, and I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on this one yet. Time to redouble my efforts to get a copy…

  2. Maxine, thanks for the review. I recently read Diamond Dove and loved it.I was delighted to see the next book was on the way. It is good to know it does not disappoint.

  3. I tried to read Diamond Dove a month or so ago having borrowed it from the library. I gave up after 40 or so pages. I thought it was simply trying too hard and the prose was awful.

  4. Maybe it is something to do with you both being Australian, Kim. I think Gunshot Road is a far better book than Diamond Dove – he seems to have worked very hard to both iron out the flaws of the first book, and add a dimension…..but, of course, each to her own.

  5. You seem to be on a bout of fine reads right now. I am going to leave all my cozy mysteries in a few days (reading them, at least) and pick something a bit more solid for my holidays – and perhaps leave my British & Scandinavian comfort zone a bit. I still need rest and sleep, but at least I have been able to plan some writing this weekend.

  6. I am glad to hear this is so good. I liked Diamond Dove but didn’t love it, but this sounds better. However, I’ve got “Truth” to read and a big TBR pile so this will be on the waiting list.

  7. I use Diamond Dove (Moonlight Downs) in a course. Last fall, a student from China finally came to me to confess she was completely defeated by the Australian English. I let her write about Rabbit Proof Fence instead (which we watched in class).

  8. Dear Maxine – thank you so-o-o much for a beautiful review – I was hoping you’d appreciate it, and I was also thinking you’d be the ideal reader, because of your interest in the natural world.
    Best wishes
    Adrian

  9. I think Adrian Hyland thought about every paragraph, every sentence, every word in this wonderful book. It’s so obvious each paragraph has been crafted. In mid-book, I can’t read it quickly, have to savor every word. And I’m smiling all of the time and frequently laughing. (I could have used a glossary, but that’s it.)

  10. Finally finished this book which took me awhile, since I read it carefully while enjoying its words. It did not disappoint. Emily Tempest stayed true to herself, her culture and her people through to the end. Although there were very rough spots for her, she gathered her strength and inner resources and did what she needed to do, maintaining her courage and loyalties.
    Now this is a book that transcends its genre and should be considered for other prizes.

  11. Pingback: Book review: Kinglake-350 by Adrian Hyland | Petrona

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