Canticle Creek by Adrian Hyland

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Jesse Redpath is a policewoman in a small Northern Territory town that services a vast, geographical district. She knows her people, their strengths and weaknesses. When she hears that a former member of her town Adam Lawson has murdered Daisy Baker and then killed himself in a car crash on a Victorian road, she doesn’t believe it. She is ‘drawn to investigate’.

By having her move from the Northern Territory to Victoria, the author fudges reality. She is a low-ranked member of a police force that is as closely structured as any other government instrumentality. Award a police constable leave to go waltzing off to interfere with a crime investigation in another jurisdiction? I don’t think so. When that PC arrives in Victoria, intent on solving a murder that has already been filed as solved, would she be made welcome by a police structure every bit as hidebound as her own? I don’t think so.

To enjoy this book, first put your critical faculties to sleep. While I question the presence of Jesse Redpath in Victoria, I can write only praise for the author’s characterization skills. I’ll comment on Jesse later. But I ‘know’ the roughnecks and I find Adrian Hyland’s depiction of them refreshing. Hyland knows how inner-directed some people in their circumstances can become. A family such as the Razics, without the criminality, is not difficult to find. They are not important to the story, a tale that has appeared in various guises for many years. Those on the criminal hierarchy ring true and, if I have met anyone who fits that description, I would have not known.

The character of most interest is Jesse Redpath. She made an impact, yet I could not warm to her. Her actions are so masculine that I found my mind physically imagining her as a man. Upon appointment to Kulara (her home base) she made the decision to be tough. That is her image; that is what makes her effective. She would just as soon kick a man in the balls as talk him into surrendering. Yet she is not a one-plate wonder. Depth in her beliefs, a quick, wry humour hiding under her skin, a firm commitment to policing, and loyalty to her colleagues figures in Jesse’s makeup. She feels for Adam Lawson and the besmirching of his name. Jesse is more likely to scare a man away than attract him, and she appears not to care. She is not a lover of football but prefers the ribald humour of men (51). She manufactures situations in order to obtain a result:

I stood up, did my best to come up to their chins, gain some leverage.

“There’s some awful shit going round here,” I continued. “If you guys can’t see that it’s connected, maybe it’s time you brought in somebody who can” (173).

Jesse is a developed character, but at the end of reading, I felt I still did not know her. The fact that she interested me is puzzling. Perhaps a mark of a fine writer.

There was never any doubt whether I was in Victoria or the Northern Territory, in a desertscape or flowing water, police station or a bush camp. In other words, the setting was unambiguously painted.

An enjoyable story with many strengths to counterbalance a few weaknesses.

Canticle Creek

(2021)

By Adrian Hyland

Ultimo Press

ISBN: 9781761150036

$32.99; 352 pp

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