Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland

Title: Moonlight Downs
Author: Adrian Hyland
ISBN: 9781569475263/ Soho Press, 2008
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, #1 Emily Tempest mystery
Rating: A+

First Line: I parked my little white ute on the outskirts of the camp and sat there, looking out at the scatter of corrugated iron hovels.

When I finished this book, I was speechless. I was smiling. I was in awe. And I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to do what I'd just read justice in a review. I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

After years of traveling the world, Emily Tempest, half-Aborigine, half-white, has returned to Moonlight, the community in the desert of Northern Australia where she grew up. Within hours of her arrival, respected community leader Lincoln Flinders' body is found, and all signs point to an Aboriginal sorcerer as his murderer. With the help of the police, Emily is determined to find Lincoln's killer, for the dead man held a very special place in her heart:

And how had Lincoln drawn me into this world? By stories. Stories and songs. With Lincoln a journey of any description was a rolling dialogue with the country. A track by a waterhole or an unusual rock, a tree shaped like a woman or a circle of stones, the subtlest change in the landscape, any of these things was enough to get him going: he'd tell you the tale of the ancestral beings that had made it, the songs they'd sung, the paths they'd carved in the Dreaming. For a wide-eyed five-year-old he'd made the country come alive.

Although the mystery is intriguing, and the bad guy slips deliciously into the picture at the end, the strength of this book lies in its characters and its depiction of the landscape and its people. Hyland's language is earthy, sometimes profane, and often very funny. Fortunately for many of us there are glossaries in the front of the book which decipher the slang. (I made regular use of them at the beginning.) Hyland portrays the life of these people as it really is. He doesn't use politically correct euphemisms; he doesn't try to sugarcoat anything, and the book is all the more powerful for it.

Emily is such an in-your-face creature. Her ambivalence about the aboriginal and white worlds that she's a part of is a strong theme in this novel. She makes me laugh. She certainly doesn't mince her words. She doesn't know the meaning of the word "quit". She's just the type of character I want to read more about.

After reading Moonlight Downs, not only did I feel supremely entertained, but I felt as though I knew a bit more about a totally different culture thousands of miles away from my comfortable home in metropolitan Phoenix. Without doubt, Adrian Hyland's book will be one of my top reads this year.


  1. Top reads, now that is a good grade :) I will look for this then

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed this book Cathy. I only read it earlier this year myself and I adored it - especially Emily and Hazel. And it really does capture the life of remote communities in the northern part of Australia (a long way from where I live but I do have a friend who moved to a remote part of the same state as this book is set in and I have visited him several times).

  3. Oooh, I have to get this one. It sounds like such an entertaining read and Emily's character is definitely my cup of tea. It looks like a series and I would love to read a few books set in Australia.
    Thanks for the review Cathy.

  4. I'm so glad you liked this Cathy. In Australia it was published as DIAMOND DOVE

  5. I love it when a book leaves me feeling like that.

  6. This is a terrific book. I hope we see more books from Hyland soon. Great review.

  7. Wow - a A+ and it leaves you speechless. This one I've got to check out. I love character-rich books, too.

  8. Amateur sluth, rated A+ by Cathy

    - I have added it to my list :D

  9. This sounds like just the kind of book I'd like - an unlikely sleuth in an unusual environment (for me, that is! Very nice review!

  10. Thank you all for the votes of (1) confidence in my reviewing abilities and (2) agreement. For all those who haven't read the book yet, I hope you find a copy, read it, and enjoy it as much as I did!

  11. Dear Cathy

    Thanks for a lovely review.

    Coming from Arizona, I imagine you could really relate to all those deserts I was writing about.

    Next Emily Tempest book - hopefully called 'Gunshot Road' - should be out in the States early next year.

    Best wishes


  12. Adrian--Wow! You've thrilled me to bits!

    Yes, I could relate to your desert setting. I love the Sonoran Desert here in Arizona, and I have a very healthy respect for it. My husband and I enjoy packing up the Jeep (I may start calling it a "ute") and taking trails miles out into the middle of nowhere. Give me a trail any day over a paved road!

    We also have a bonus here, for high, cool mountains aren't all that far away, and if we get tired of the heat, we can escape there.

    Reading Moonlight Downs also made me think of a dear friend who spends many months of each year out in the Great Sandy Desert, working at an aboriginal school. Like me, he loves photography, and I never tire of seeing his photos.

    Thanks so much for the information about your newest book. I can't wait to read more about Emily!


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