Author: Fleur McDonald
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Publication Date: 31 March 2020
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Fleur McDonald writes intriguing and suspenseful rural crime fiction set in the present, and the not so distant past. A couple of years ago, in my warped sense of the passage of time, in one of her present day crime novels there was an intriguing detective that fans fell for; yes I was one of them. He was a character that you just knew had an interesting past.
It seems that Dave, and his creator, decided they wanted the world to get to know him better and the early Dave series was born. This is a sequential series that releases in April consisting of Fool’s Gold, Without A Doubt and now Red Dirt Country. I am already eagerly anticipating the next book and it’s sad that it’s at least a year away.
These books are Dave’s story, he’s the main man and our only narrator. The present day novels where Dave appears have him sharing the limelight with a heroine and offers a dual narrative. The nature of the dual series means that it really isn’t imperative to read the books in order, you can follow the story well regardless of where you join the narrative.
Red Dirt Country sees Dave returned from an undercover operation that did not end well and nearing the end of his recuperation, itching to get back to work. He has enjoyed the months at home with his young daughter but misses his work, especially after having gained a spot on the stock squad.
Dave is physically recuperated but still suffering some nightmares, loving his time at home but itching to get to work on the stock squad, his long held career goal. He is thrilled to be back with his family and trying to make things work with Mel but it seems that love may not be enough.
Red Dirt Country takes Dave way out bush to a remote community that is suffering some cattle losses. Of course it isn’t a clear cut easy to solve case and there is generations of tension between neighbouring property owners that only adds to the mystery.
Tensions between Dave and Mel rise as he needs to leave home for work and she struggles with the fear of him being hurt again, not helped by the encouragement from her father. McDonald explores marriage and its trials, with the extra pressures of marriage to a police officer. Dave is supported by a couple of his close colleagues but he also finds an ally in an unlikely location which I thought added an extra layer to the relationships between Dave, Mel and her family.
The first case Dave is tasked with on the stock squad is in a remote community in the north of Western Australia, there is trouble brewing with missing cattle and all is definitely not what it seems.
Dave’s new superior has some habits that Dave definitely doesn’t agree with but he soon discovers that there is a lot you can learn from what isn’t said and the two slowly build a strong bond that I hope to see continue through many books to come. Bob Holden is long serving member of the force and a fount of knowledge for Dave, who is finally seeing the stock yards from a different perspective.
McDonald explores some deep cultural issues related to landholders, indigenous communities, the relationship of the police with the indigenous and just how easily the evils of the fathers can be passed down through the generations.
Kevin is an intelligent and passionate young indigenous man who is struggling to find his place in the world, he left his remote indigenous community to attend agricultural college and learn the best way to manage the land for the community and make it a successful haven for his people. His time away has made him an outsider with his people and he will never truly belong in the white man’s world. Still, Kevin is determined to do the best for his people and stop the cycles of the past. The elders don’t want trouble stirred up because they’ve seen the way these things end and they don’t want to see it happen again.
The closest town is Boogarin and it only has one police officer, a relatively new one and he’s determined to do the right thing. It doesn’t take him long to realise that the community at Spinifex Downs hasn’t always had a fair go with the police in the area and he has a way to go to prove that he isn’t like the police officers who served the town in the past.
McDonald has woven a gripping tale of generations old hurts, and secrets, brewing under the surface and a few brave men willing to buck the trends of the past and see justice done. The characters are sensitively drawn and all have their tale to tell, many of them not pretty and not what we would like to think is still happening in the 21st Century.
Alongside the case Dave is working with Bob Holden at Spinifex Downs we still have the continuing tale of Dave’s undercover case because of the trial. This story arc left me wondering about how deep, or how high, the corruption sometimes runs. The arc takes a backseat to the new case but it is still an extremely important piece of the narrative and one that I think will continue to run through at least a couple more books.
Red Dirt Country is a book I would have liked to devour in a sitting, if real life would allow me the luxury, and it ended with a quiet shock that left me crying out for the next instalment.
Most definitely part of a series but I think Red Dirt Country has the strength to be read as a standalone without sacrificing any of the enjoyment, though I think it would send people looking for more Dave Burrows tales.
Red Dirt Country is book #8 read for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2020.
Red Dirt Country is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold. In these uncertain times it would be great to try and support a local bookstore, many of the ones in my area have put systems in place to fulfil orders even though their physical stores may be closed to the public.