Title: Bitter Wash Road
Author: Gary Disher
Date of publication: April 2020
Number of pages: 416
Hirsch is a whistle-blower. Formerly a promising metropolitan detective, now hated and despised, he’s been exiled to a one-cop station in South Australia’s wheatbelt. Threats. Pistol cartridge in the mailbox.
So when he heads up Bitter Wash Road to investigate gunfire and finds himself cut off without backup, there are two possibilities. Either he’s found the fugitive killers thought to be in the area. Or his ‘backup’ is about to put a bullet in him.
He’s wrong on both counts. But Tiverton when the next call-out takes him to the body of a sixteen-year-old girl, his investigation has disturbing echoes of the past he’s trying to leave behind…
Bitter Wash Road… Or Bumpy Winding Dirty Road!!! What a scorching trip to Australia!
Constable Hirsch has been categorised as a whistle-blower. The police have strong retribution for this. Once a promising cop in a team in the city, he now has the ‘honor’ of being sent to a one-cop town. Can you imagine this? You are at the top, you feel part of the police family, and one day, everyone hates you more than chewing up on a shoe sole so you end up on your own in the middle of nowhere. Well, don’t worry, Garry Disher knows exactly how to describe Hirsch’s life with enough precision so the loneliness and the heat of the place blend and down on you, pressing on your chest like a lead armor.
Two things I just mentioned need more precision. First, Hirsch and his loneliness. Despite his situation, Paul Hirsch makes the most of it because he is a fantastic character with a strong moral code. Believe me, it is beautiful to read about a cop who still have faith in the good old rules and procedures. Yes, beautiful, because Hirsch is faced with neighboring cops, and if you think it’s a relief, you have it wrong. Word travels fast and he is not welcome for many reasons, the biggest being everyone thinks he is a snitch ready to abandon the ship to save himself. I read so much about police teams working together that being sent to the wild where different rules apply was a cold shower, a terrifying discovery, and an outstanding take on what’s worst in the system.
Second, the heat of the place… well, the place itself, is the perfect companion to Hirsch’s loneliness. Garry Disher’s calm and precious writing transported me to South Australia. I was met with dust, the sun the sole witness of what happens when things are rotting, slowly but surely. My point is that Hirsch is alone with himself, in his job, and in the world. Several times, when he should have been able to rely on help, I felt the weight of his solitary life and it made me root for him with twice as much strength.
Tiverton is a calm town but it is far from being quiet. A dead girl is found, seemingly having been run over by a car. Quickly, it appears locals don’t talk and other officers don’t need help… Still Hirsch is ready to make sure the investigation is run as it should. Garry Disher knows all about character growth and as Hirsch does his best to do his work, the reader is seated front row to watch him find a way back to himself. It takes another body, rumours, violence, and questions, but neither the author nor the main character shy away from the tasks at hand. Abuse, threats, racism, Tiverton doesn’t escape society’s demons but also shows some things are worth saving.
The place is claustrophobic and burning, giving the amazing array of characters the best possible backdrop for a superb performance. Bitter Wash Road doesn’t spare your feelings, it makes you come alive. Gary Disher completely nails everything in his novel. I can’t wait to read more!
I would like to thank the team at Viper for sending me a copy of this novel. This review is my unbiased opinion.
You can get the book here!