Book Review: The Dragon Man by Garry Disher

Dragon man The Dragon Man by Garry Disher
Bitter Lemon Press 2007 (first published in Australia in 1999).

The Dragon Man is first in a series of five, soon to be six, novels about Detective Inspector Hal Challis and his Sergeant, Ellen Destry. It’s one of my favourite kinds of novel, in that it describes in detail a police investigation into a crime, provides a strong sense of location and society, and also addresses the personal and professional lives of the detectives concerned. 

The crime in this case occurs when a woman is abducted on the Old Peninsula Highway in a (fictional) area south-east of Melbourne, Australia. Challis is responsible for crime over a fairly large area in this peninsula, where constant state cutbacks to social services make the job of the police harder – not just because of the increased likelihood of crime, but in creating a challenge for people’s daily lives, for example in organising child care when nurseries are closed down and you have to work shifts.

Challis is a serious-minded policeman, whose disastrous marriage has resulted in his wife being imprisoned. His domestic history is gradually revealed via his wife’s late-night, drunk phone calls to her husband from jail – he cannot bear to cut her off completely by divorcing her. Challis is a loner, taking refuge from his less than satisfactory personal life and his heavy workload via his hobby of slowly restoring a vintage World War Two-era plane. His sergeant, Destry, is a highly competent police officer but has her own domestic struggles in the shape of a resentful husband who is also a policeman but at a lower rank, and a sulky teenage daughter – a telling subplot which I am sure reflects many people’s experiences.

The story of the crime investigation is very well paced throughout the book as we come to learn more about the day-to-day life of people who live in the Peninsula, as well as and the inner lives of the various members of the police force, positive and negative, as they attempt to find the person who is abducting and killing vulnerable women.

There are several intriguing threads to the main plot, which gradually come together in a tense climax. I have to admit that the identity of the perpetrator was pretty obvious, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this highly atmospheric novel, which transported me right into the lives and concerns of the people within its pages. I’m definitely going to seek out the subsequent novels in the series.


Part of the publisher description for this book:

Summer on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne. The heat's ramping up, the usual holiday madness building. Detective Inspector Hal Challis is already recycling his shower water and starting to dread Christmas.
But this year there's something more. Women abducted and murdered on the Old Highway. A pall of fear over the scorched paddocks. The media are demanding answers—and Challis's sleepy beat is set to explode.

I decided to read this book because the author is a favourite of Bernadette of the excellent blog Reactions to Reading. Here is what she had to say about this particular book.

Other reviews of The Dragon Man are at: Australian Crime Fiction; (reviewer, Harriet Klausner); and

Question and answer session with Garry Disher and Angela Savage.

Author's website, including bibliography.


10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dragon Man by Garry Disher

  1. Maxine – No wonder I love your reviews so much! : ). Thanks for this thoughtful and informative look at The Dragon Man. My poor TBR list……. ; )

  2. Thank you, Margot, you are too kind! I have read a few duds recently, but this one shone out. It had such heart and humanity – a rather Peter Temple-like protagonist, actually.

  3. I am glad you liked this one Maxine, I am so far behind in this series myself but I do like the characters. Must find some more time in my day.
    I tried his other series recently – a book called Wyatt is the last in it and is on the shortlist for the Ned Kelly award but I couldn’t finish it, just not my cup of tea I guess. O

  4. I have been reading “Blood Moon,” which was published last year. It is part of this series. It is an interesting read. I especially like the main protagonists.

  5. Yes, I noticed that Wyatt was a DNF for you, Bernadette. I was given it at the LBF by the publisher this year – but decided to try his other series (Hal Challis) first. I suppose it isn’t fair in a way to start with the most recent of a long series (as in the case of Wyatt) but time is so short and there are a lot of previous novels….maybe I’ll give it a try but not be too hopeful.

  6. Thanks, Kathy. I’ve ordered Kittyhawk Down, which is the next in the series after Dragon Man……I’ll see how it goes. Apparently Destry becomes more central in future books, which sounds good from my point of view.

  7. If you like this title by Garry Disher, you may also like my first novel, “What Child is This?”. Set on the Mornington Peninsula, southeast of Melbourne, the story follows Rebecca Martin, who must sift through a mountain of misleading comments and family history to discover the truth about her twin sister Khristian’s death and her relationship with Alastair Kilpatrick, who now wants to marry Rebecca. This is a story about people who are not who they say they are, family secrets and relationships that aren’t entirely truthful. For a full review and ordering information, visit or any good online bookstore.

  8. I do think the cover of this edition is most weird, Karen! It does not seem to bear a lot of relation to the book, either, so I don’t know how it was dreamt up.

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