Title: Diamond Dove (alternative title Moonlight Downs)
Publisher: Text Publishing [originally published 2006, this edition 2007]
No. of Pages: 322
In her mid-20’s and after travelling around the world Emily Tempest goes back to the place she left as a teenager: Moonlight Downs. A run down property in Australia’s Northern Territory, nine hours drive from Alice Springs. It’s where Emily spent her childhood after her mother died and where her dad sent her to the city from when she got into too much trouble. With the Moonlight mob having only recently returned to the property after securing ownership in a Land Rights claim the place is not what it was when Emily left but she still feels drawn to it. Sadly, not long after she arrives one of the mob’s leaders is killed and Emily seems to be the only one interested in finding out who killed him.
I’m not convinced this is crime fiction, at least not in its purest sense. There is a crime, and an investigation of sorts, but, for me anyway, that element of the plot wasn’t particularly important, although in the end it had its share of suspense. At the risk of making this sound like some kind of schmalzy personal-journey tale (schmaltzy this definitely isn’t) solving the mystery played second fiddle to the book’s other themes. Half-Aboriginal, half-white Emily Tempest’s search for somewhere to belong and someone to belong to is engrossing because it isn’t schmaltzy. Indeed all the characters’ search for ‘home’ and ‘family’ ,whatever those terms might mean to them, makes compelling reading. And the exploration of outback Australia after land rights claims started being awarded to Aboriginal groups feels very realistic. I used to be an archivist for a state government here and I did a swag of research for claimant groups and members of the stolen generations so have some small sense of those issues and Hyland’s portrayal of them felt very realistic to me.
The best thing of all is that all of these issues are treated with a total absence of the brand of political correctness so prevalent these days that involves some group being offended on behalf of some other group. The book shows the good and the bad of everyone involved without once unduly condemning anyone or praising anyone. Things are what they are and the reader gets to draw their own conclusions. For that alone I would love the book.
However there’s more to love. There’s wonderfully dry, very Australian Emily. Although I have little in common with Emily I feel a far greater feminine kinship with her than with any of the fictional women I am supposed to ‘relate to’ (e.g. any character in Sex and the City or the insufferable Bridget Jones). Not bad for a woman created by a bloke. And the other characters are equally memorable: her childhood friend and soul mate Hazel, the neighbouring station owner Earl Marsh, the cops, the hunters are all vividly depicted.
Then there’s a depiction of a country which, for this city girl, is as foreign as northern Europe or southern Africa. But it’s spectacularly drawn and could tempt even me from my creature comforts. At least for another visit (I have ventured to the Territory a couple of times).
There’s also the funny, very irreverent, very evocative writing that made me smile a lot, cry a little and read whole chunks out to anyone who would listen. With a few words Hyland can create lasting imagines in your head.
I should have read this book ages ago but the copy I bought was filched by a friend before I got to read it and it’s done the rounds since then. Being a cheapskate I couldn’t bring myself to buy another copy so I waited patiently for my copy to return. The good thing about having done it this way is that everyone I know has read it so I won’t have to loan it out again. Which is just as well ‘cos this one’s a keeper.
My rating 5/5