A harried police force in southern Australia tries to apprehend a serial killer while coping with diverse minor infractions and major personal problems.
The murder of young Jane Gideon casts a pall over the imminent Christmas holidays on The Peninsula, a “coastal comma” southeast of Melbourne, and prompts talk of a serial killer, since another local woman was killed in a similar manner one week earlier. When Detective Inspector Hal Challis, who recently survived an attempt on his life by his wife and her lover, both now in prison, arrives from out of town to supervise the probe, he’s promptly taken into custody by one of his new junior officers, overeager Constable John Tankard. Challis’s ex still manages to ring him up occasionally from prison. Tankard’s woebegone partner Pam Murphy, officious detective Ellen Destry, and the other Peninsula constables have comparably messy personal lives, rivaling those of the petty criminals with whom they’re locked in constant combat. Challis’s adjustment to his new assignment and locale is smoothed by a relationship with tabloid editor Tessa Kane fraught with professional ethics issues. The hunt for the serial killer proceeds with methodical slowness, but there’s no dearth of other minor cases, involving arson, burglary, and drug abuse.
This series debut from the prolific Disher (The Sunken Road, 1996, etc.) doesn’t read like one, thanks to fully formed characters and wall-to-wall mysteries. The offbeat setting’s a bonus for US readers.