Garry Disher’s fourth novel in the Inspector Hal Challis and Sergeant Ellen Destry Investigation series, Chain of Evidence, was the winner of the 2007 Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel in Disher’s native Australia and first released domestically by Soho Crime in 2008. After having completed this novel, it’s easy for me to see why Disher has received such acclaim: it is a steady, even-handed detailing of the Australian police procedural. Additionally, it is filled with down-to-earth, believable characters who handle the mundane tasks and frequent frustrations that often accompany those in the law enforcement community. Having been raised on American police procedurals, I found the novel at some points to be a bit slow. Only after the fast-paced resolution did I fully appreciate the fine detail and realism Garry Disher arduously lays out for the reader of this gritty crime novel.
Chain of Evidence is really two books in one. The first storyline involves a young girl’s kidnapping, perhaps part of a string of pedophile abductions that have been plaguing many parts of Australia for some time. Sgt. Ellen Destry is in charge of the Morningtown Peninsula Crime Investigation Unit located in Waterloo. Her team is immediately on the abduction of young Katie Blasko, and they realize that time is not in their favor for finding her alive and well.
The second story deals with Inspector Hal Challis, who has been summoned from his place in Morningtown Peninsula to his hometown of Mawson’s Bluff in the Australian Outback. Hal’s father is dying, and he wants to be at his bedside to show support. While at his father’s home, he interacts with his younger sister, Meg, from whom he has been estranged, and gets caught up in an ongoing mystery over the sudden disappearance of her husband, Gavin, a few years earlier - and the strange pieces of mail she has been receiving since he went missing.
Disher juggles these storylines while at the same time giving the reader insight into the pedophile who kidnapped young Katie Blasko. It appears that Pete Duyker has been operating falsely under the guise of child photographer/casting agent, not only ripping off parents of several hundred dollars per session but also following up on some of these children to satisfy his own secret perversions. As Sgt. Ellen Destry and her team work diligently on the case of the missing Blasko girl, they are constantly hampered by internal leaks to the press that make their jobs more difficult, in addition to having little to no evidence or witnesses to the abduction.
As the Katie Blasko case continues, Destry and her team uncover evidence that indicates there may be more than one person involved in the abductions. Remarkably, Katie is able to escape from her captors and finds her way home. Her testimony helps the police in their case, but it also points them into different directions. One involves a notorious local family, infamous for their troubles with the law, while another angle may point directly back at Destry’s department and the potential involvement of one of her own people.
While this is going on, Inspector Challis is coming to grips with the inevitable death of his terminally ill father. To keep his mind occupied, he throws himself full-on into the mystery surrounding his missing brother-in-law. When a badly decomposed body is found with a gunshot wound to the head, it is identified as the missing Gavin. Hal must now deal with the local Mawson’s Bluff police team while working to clear his sister’s name as a suspect. This is not as easy as it seems, and Challis must face some demons from his past in the town he grew up in – and this trip down memory lane is not a pleasant one.
Garry Disher professionally handles these multiple story-lines while continuing to create a very believable environment. At the same time, he gives readers an opportunity to become more familiar with the police procedures of Australia; it is amazing to see how very similar it is to those in the U.S. I hail Soho Crime for consistently bringing international crime thrillers to the North American audience and presenting different but always engaging perspectives.