Somebody stealing old ladies’ underwear from the line, a child starving in a locked caravan and a father theatening the local primary school headmaster – all part of the day’s work for Constable Paul Hirschhausen in the small country town of Tiverton. But one thing leads to another, and as so often happens in these little towns, everything is connected. Gary Disher is very skilful in weaving the threads of these different stories tighter and tighter as the book goes on, and Paul is someone good to be with as the world gets nastier. He’s a policeman who understands his job isn’t just about cracking down on people, but just as much about keeping people on their feet in hard times: the isolated farmer with a demented wife, the old lady who can’t get up to change a light bulb, the farmer driven to desperation by a shady land-agent. The two murders that happen in Redruth are all the worse because he knows how ordinary the victims are, and the farmer and his son who are on the run with loaded guns and all the provisions for a long siege aren’t just a policing problem for him, but a family tragedy. Synpathetic as he is, he gets very annoyed with the attentions of Clara Ogilvie, who seems to be determined to win him away from his lover Wendy and who sometimes sends 40 text messages in a couple of hours. Is Clara just a nuisance, or something more sinister?
But why is this middle-aged cop a constable in small rural town? I went looking for the backstory. According to this article in the Canberra Times, Paul was once a member of a corrupt CID squad, became a whistleblower and for his sins was demoted to Constable and sent to a one-horse town. Disher won the German Crime Prize in 2016 with his first Hirschhausen book Bitter Wash Road and he won the Australian Crime Writers’ Association’s Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
All the usual skills of a good crime writer are here: tight plotting, characters who keep you guessing and a real depth to the motivations of those characters. But the most rewarding aspect of Consolation is the understated humanity that runs quietly through it, as it does through the heart of Hirschhausen. If you enjoy this, and you will, you’re in for a treat. There are two more Hirschhausen books to date, ten more featuring the professional hold-up man Wyatt and seven featuring detectives Challis and Destry.