Emily Tempest has always felt a bit of an in-betweener, not quite in the world of her white, mining father, nor the aboriginal world of her long dead mother. Having gone for an extended walkabout through Australian cities, drifting from one unfinished course to another, and around the world, now in her mid-twenties she has returned to Central Australia and the scruffy camp of Moonlight Downs, unsure what to expect or how she’ll be received. Her mob welcome her back, but within hours her former mentor is brutally murdered and the group scatter to the winds in grief. Emily retreats to Bluebush, the nearby, rough and ready, mining town, determined to track down the killer. Only the clues point in different directions – to a loner, aboriginal who is a law unto himself, and a white, cattle farmer who has his eye on the sacred lands of the Diamond Dove. What soon becomes apparent is that finding the truth in part means finding herself.
Diamond Dove is a wonderful novel. Engagingly written, with good prose, a well crafted, multi-textured plot, and perfectly paced, Hyland transports the reader into the natural and social environment of the Australian outback, the worlds of aborigines and white settlers, and their interface. In both the bush and the town, Hyland evokes a rich sense of place conveying their respective sights, textures, sounds and smells. The characterization is excellent, with Emily Tempest particularly well drawn, with just the right amount of back story that the reader understands the context but is always kept in the present. The scenes and dialogue are well constructed, with a good blend of observations, pathos, wit, and social commentary without it ever becoming a sermon. Indeed, Diamond Dove cleverly explores race relations and social and political tensions in contemporary Australia without straying from Emily’s quest to discover who killed her friend and mentor. I’ve already started recommending it to friends.