‘Reading Round the World – South Australia
When I find a book such as Garry Disher’s The Dragon Man, which has garnered so many good reviews, read it expecting ‘everything’, then find myself getting more and more disgruntled chapter by chapter… well, I worry that I must have managed to miss something.
So this time, I left it a bit, then read it again, hoping for the revelations all those other readers apparently enjoyed… but I’m still stuck with my initial disenchantments, beginning with a plot premise that irritated me from page one… young women abducted, raped and murdered by a possible serial killer. Why must even Aussie crime writers resort to this? I don’t believe the world can possibly be cursed with so many deviantly-murderous-yet-ordinary-in-everyday-life psychopaths (outside of the USA). ( I expect I should make allowances, seeing as The Dragon Man was published way back in the 90’s, when serial killer mysteries were becoming a sub-genre .)
Forgive me. I forgot my own ‘be kind’ reminder: if I have something negative to say, I should be kind enough to begin with a positive.
So… what do I like about this book?
I do like that Gary Disher writes so well that the writing never gets in the way of the story, and I like that the setting is an area of Australia I’m somewhat familiar with, and I like that Disher gets the summer heat so searingly right. There is more to like… but I’m not writing a treatise here.
My objectives are to give you a brief review… completing my obligation to the 2014 Global Reading Challenge… and of more importance to me, to assess the protagonist’s potential as a ‘moody sleuth’.
Fulfilling my first obligation, I’m borrowing this concise, but adequate review from Publishers Weekly:
“Australian author Disher delivers an intelligent, atmospheric police procedural, the first of a new series. A serial killer targeting young women along the isolated Old Peninsula Highway has baffled Detective Inspector Hal Challis and his staff. Himself a resident of the Peninsula, as the locals call the sleepy “comma of land hooking into the sea south-east of Melbourne,” Challis leads a solitary life. We soon learn that his wife Angela has spent the last seven years in prison for conspiring with her lover to murder him. Nicknamed “the dragon man,” Challis in his spare time obsessively restores a vintage airplane, a Dragon Rapide. Indeed, as we meet the other police officers, it becomes clear that they’re as interesting, not to mention as complex and morally ambiguous, as any of the criminals they seek.”
Now, cutting right to my primary objective, based on my reading of The Dragon Man, Disher’s Detective Inspector Hal Challis does not make it to my moody sleuth list.
Okay, Hal Challis is a solitary protagonist burdened with a troubling past; he has a wife, though she’s been in prison for seven years, convicted for conspiring to murder him… yet he hasn’t divorced her and still takes her phone calls… which suggests this issue is far from resolved. I suspect this is addressed as the series progresses, but have to admit that this aspect of Challis’ troubling past doesn’t really pique my curiosity, nor am I particularly interested in Challis’ rather desultory affair with a local news reporter, despite their intermittent conflicts over whether or not she should publish information that may jeopardize his current investigation.
Challis’ personal life strikes me as a bit ordinary, compared with the lives and relationships of some of his compatriots, and even some of the ‘bad guys’ in The Dragon Man.
Despite the potential for villainous character types suggested by the book’s title, Inspector Hal Challis is ‘the Dragon Man’… a reference to his hobby, restoring a 1930’s de Havilland Dragon Rapide.
Interesting hobbies or other quirks have almost come to be ‘de rigueur’ for crime fiction detectives: i.e. Martin Beck’s model ships, Konrad Sejer’s sky-diving, and Costas Haritos’ dictionary addiction. but thinking back on Beck and Sejer and Haritos, I feel that their hobbies added something to my understanding of each, something Challis’ hobby doesn’t quite do for me. Maybe I’m getting jaded, or maybe if I knew more about vintage airplane restoration I’d feel differently, but I don’t and it didn’t.
Also, it seems that in this first installment of Disher’s Inspector Challis series, Challis gets less ‘air time’ than a number of other troubled characters whose lives fairly writhe with despair and ‘moral ambiguity’.
So for me, the sum of The Dragon Man’s parts didn’t add up to any more than that; I wasn’t fully engaged, I picked out the bad guy far too soon, and I found Hal Challis less interesting than several of the other characters in the book.
But, as I said at the beginning of this post, Garry Disher’s The Dragon Man entertained a lot of readers, many of whom commented favourably over at Goodreads and Amazon… and yes, I do admit to an innate contrariness, plus I’m decidedly ‘picky’ about the crime series detectives I choose to follow, so if you feel inclined to test my judgement, Amazon.com has a good-size portion of Chapter one of The Dragon Man for you to sample.
‘Nuff said on that topic.
Summer vacation is over and I’ve fallen woefully behind in posts for the 2014 Global Reading Challenge. No time to dally.