Thursday, June 17, 2010

Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

Title: Gunshot Road, An Emily Tempest Investigation
Author: Adrian Hyland
ISBN: 9781569476369, Soho Crime, 2010
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, #2 Emily Tempest mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

First Line: I closed my eyes, felt the ragged harmonies flowing through my head.

Working as an Aboriginal Community police officer, the half-Aboriginal, half-white Emily Tempest is working the harsh land of northern Australia. It doesn't take long for her to encounter her first dead body-- an old prospector she knew as a child. Trouble is, her boss has already figured out who the murderer is and wants Emily to mind her own business and work the night shift in town like a good little Abo girl. Emily believes the old prospector-- and the man they have thrown in prison--deserve much better than that, and she goes her own way, conducting her own investigation. Emily has never been afraid of getting into a fight, but during the course of her travels along Gunshot Road, she finds the hard knocks to be much worse than she'd anticipated.

This is an excellent follow-up to Hyland's first book, Moonlight Downs (published elsewhere as Diamond Dove). Emily is most definitely an amateur detective; she leads with her heart instead of her head, and she has a tendency to make mistakes. If she's lucky, the mistakes aren't painful, but she's not always lucky. In fact, if you have a strong aversion to violence against women, there is one scene in this book that you will want to avoid. For that matter, Emily's world is dirty and rough. People don't always bathe as often as they should, they use whatever language they feel like using, and violence is often a way of life. Expect grit and realism as you read about Emily.

Having a foot in two worlds, Emily has reaped some of the benefits of the white world: she has furthered her education, and she is a world traveler. However, she cannot and will not ignore injustice, especially to the Aboriginal people among whom she spent her childhood.

Each character in this book seems to fit perfectly into the hot and dusty land, and as much as I enjoy Hyland's plot, pacing and characters, one of the main reasons why I love his books is because of the landscape. It reminds me of my own chosen one:

I wasn't paying a huge amount of attention to the road, I admit-- a nasty habit I've acquired since coming back out bush. Sometimes I even read while I'm driving. Nothing heavy, mind you-- crime, perhaps, maybe a magazine. I'm not the only culprit, I'm sure. Meeting another vehicle out here is an event of such magnitude you tend to get out and talk about it.

Like the Australian Outback, there are places here in the Arizona desert where you can drive all day long and never meet another living soul outside of a snake and a lizard or two. If you do meet someone out in this vast emptiness, you acknowledge each other. You are no longer in the city, and anonymity can get you killed. Although Hyland's territory is an exotic one, it does feel familiar to me even if I don't always understand the lingo.

Story, pacing, characters, setting... these are four very important things to any book, but Hyland adds yet another element that makes his writing stand out: the Aboriginal culture. As much as I enjoyed this book, one sentence engraved itself on my mind because it voices something I've felt for a long time without ever putting it into words: "He bin say you not from here. You move too fast: more better you slow down, take time for the country to know you."

Take time for the country to know you. In Gunshot Road, that is important advice from a people who have learned to live in rhythm with a very special land. Outside of Gunshot Road it is excellent advice for us all to follow.

If you haven't tasted a book written by Adrian Hyland, you've been missing a banquet.


  1. I'm so jealous. I've only skimmed the review so far, will read more fully after my copy arrives in a couple of weeks :)

  2. Cathy - Thanks for this great review. I've been in the Arizona desert and you're right; it is one of those places that you either live in harmony with, or it can kill you. Gunshot Road looks great, and I'm definitely going to try to find it.

  3. I haven't read anything by this author, but this series sounds wonderful. I'll definitely keep my eye out for a copy.

  4. Bernadette-- It still blows my mind that this book is available in the US before it is in Australia!

    Margot-- I think you'll enjoy it.

    Kris-- Great! :)

  5. I'm looking forward to this series whenever I eventually get to it. Difficult setting I would think. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Just to let Cathy and others know that Gunshot Road is indeed available now in
    Australia and New Zealand -- published by Text.

  7. Kay-- I think it's the people more than the setting that's difficult, but then I've chosen to live in a desert.

    Mary-- Thanks for letting us know!

  8. Hi Cathy,

    As an anthropologist who lives in the Outback, and works constantly with Aboriginal people -I can speak several Aboriginal languages- I can tell you, I am going to read this book with a close eye.

    A lot of Australian writers try to write about the Outback and end up writing cliches. They simply haven't lived here and can't possibly represent the nuances of culture, and just can't convincingly 'write' the landscape as anything other than flat, open, vast. Which is just so so so wrong!

    We have mountains in the outback and trees and vast dry rivers...

    Anyway, I've heard that Adrian Hyland lived in the Northern Territory and the Kimberly, and others have said he has got it right.

    The very fact that he's willing to write about the violence towards women, the messiness, poverty and appalling ill health of many Aboriginal communities says to me: this guy really knows what it's like to live in the Outback.

  9. Amanda-- You're one of the people I thought of when I read this book. Hyland not only lived there, I believe he taught Aboriginal children. He does say that he's changed a thing here or there, mostly because he's not going to publish information about things that are sacred, and to protect people's privacy. But both books have the gritty, sweaty feel of Truth. I'll certainly be interested in reading your thoughts of his work.


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