With some novels, I nod indulgently at the mystery parts: the clues, the detective’s self-doubt, the obvious misdirection, and I marvel at the superstructure the author erects just so he or she can throw in a bit of mystery. Or at the handy availability of mystery as a plot engine, a framework on which to hang the author’s view of some exciting locale or pressing social or psychological problem.
And then there is something wonderful like Adrian Hyland’s Diamond Dove, an unabashed amateur-sleuth whodunit that works seamlessly as character study and as portrait of a setting that is probably unfamiliar to many Australians, much less to readers like me on the other side of the world.
The protagonist is Emily Tempest, a restless young woman of Aboriginal and white parentage who has come back to live among her “mob,” the shifting clan of Aborigines among whom she spent her youth in Australia’s Northern Territory. The group’s wise and revered leader is killed soon after Emily arrives, and circumstances force her from the group’s camp into the neighboring town of Bluebush, which Emily refers to, if I recall correctly, as a “shithole.”
Along the way, we and Emily meet miners, cattlemen, police, pub owners, aid workers and all manner of inhabitants that one might expect in a town near nowhere and a settlement outside the town. The characters are variously dirty, violent, kind, hilarious, empty-headed and of unexpected strength and talent. This applies equally to the novel’s white characters and its Aborigines, and a comment by Hyland in The Age newspaper seems pertinent here. Diamond Dove, he says,
“is based on people I know and love. Anyone who reads it will see that I hang shit on everyone – the miners, the meatworkers, the station owners and even the Lands Council types who are my friends. It's a comedy satire. I was joking about everybody I knew, and it was written in the spirit of affection about a dying world, a world no one's really written about. … A precious world that's fading. … I suspect one could do more for Aboriginal people by portraying them as a living, loveable people, rather than as a broken museum display which is going to have us all running for the confessional."
But Diamond Dove is also a mystery. At least four credible suspects present themselves, and Emily is a perfect vehicle for Hyland’s artful misdirection. As smart and as determined as she is, she’s a neophyte. Her doubts and misdirected certainties work because in her place, we might react the same way. She is a perfect amateur sleuth. Diamond Dove is Hyland’s first novel so, if we’re lucky, we’ll see more of his precious world.
Diamond Dove is published in Australia by Text Publishing of Melbourne, and I have read that Hyland has signed a two-book deal with Soho Press that includes Diamond Dove. This could mean more convenient availability for readers outside Australia. My advice, though, is not to wait. Order the book now, enjoy it, then lord it over your friends when the book hits the shops in your country.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Australian crime fiction