Monday, January 28, 2013

Review of The Diggers Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin (Viking/Penguin, 2010)

1947 in Melbourne, Australia, and Charlie Berlin is back working as a detective after serving as a bomber pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force, flying night missions over Germany.  He’s returned to find himself at the bottom of the pile, his colleagues having advanced whilst he was away, and with a head full of demons after being shot down and housed in a prisoner of war camp in Poland.  When the railway payroll is yet again robbed, he’s packed off to the small rural twin-town of Albury-Wodonga to investigate.  By sending him alone to solve a case that has already confounded others it seems that his bosses have set him up to fail, and the local cops are hardly welcoming of the arrival of a city detective.  From his base at The Diggers Rest Hotel, Berlin sets about tracking down the armed gang of robbers with the help of a rookie constable and a beautiful, feisty local reporter, who both see Berlin and the case as a way to better things and places.  Berlin though is not just taking on the gang, but also the memories that haunt him, especially the horror of the anti-aircraft fire, the death march back towards Germany from his Polish camp, and the execution of a young Jewess.

The Diggers Rest Hotel won the Ned Kelly Award for best crime fiction novel in Australia in 2011.  McGeachin drops the reader into rural Australia in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, with its small town politics, social unease about change, and folk traumatised through what they’d experienced or lost.  He is especially strong at characterisation, populating Albury-Wodonga with an interesting set of people, all struggling in some way to make do, or get on, or come to terms with the past and the present.  In particular, Charlie Berlin and Rebecca Green make for an enjoyable, feisty pairing.  Add in a compelling storyline of Berlin investigating a set of payroll robberies by an armed gang and you have a very nice mix - a strong sense of place and historical and social contextualisation, wonderful characterisation, and interesting plot, told through engaging prose.  Although the resolution was credible, the only slightly jarring element was the ending, which seemed to come about ten pages too soon and left a couple of threads dangling that are hopefully dealt with in the next book in the series.  Overall, a very enjoyable read on several levels.


Kerrie said...

So glad (and relieved) you enjoyed it Rob

Bernadette said...

Given you went to so much trouble to track it down I'm glad you enjoyed it. Agree the characters are good - as is the setting - very realistic depiction of country Oz - I spend all my childhood summers in a place not unlike that depicted here and the people and their prejudices are spot on.

Anonymous said...

Rob - Oh, it's so good to hear you enjoyed this book! You certainly went to enough trouble to get it.