Review: Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

I try quite hard to have no expectations of the books I read. Even if I have enjoyed an author’s work before there is no guarantee I will do so the next time and sometimes I disagree with even my favourite reviewers. But I admit to tingling with anticipation when notified by the bookseller that my pre-order of Gunshot Road had left the warehouse and was on its way to me. I read it as the last book in my Aussie Author Challenge for this year.

Emily Tempest has become the world’s most unlikely cop, an Aboriginal Community Police Officer no less. On her first day on the job in Bluebush in the Northern Territory she is one of the officers called to the scene of a stabbing out at Green Swamp Well. On the surface it looks like an open and shut case: two old drunks got into a fight and one stabbed the other in the neck. But to Emily, who knows both the victim (Doc) and the suspect (Wireless), something doesn’t feel right and she can’t let the investigation slide.

Gunshot Road has it all. Literally. Everything I could possibly want from a work of fiction all in one gorgeous package.

First there are fantastic characters. Emily Tempest is brave and stubborn and smart and funny and, as was the case with the first book in which she features, I’m still not entirely sure how a bloke can create such a credible female character but I’m delighted he has. In this book she is more mature than in her first outing though she still struggles when she knows what she should do is not what she wants to do and usually her heart wins out over her head. For better or worse.

There are plenty of other beautifully depicted characters to look out for too. Like the teenage Aboriginal boy called Danny who is deeply troubled by something and unable to communicate his fears to Emily. And the town’s new top cop, taciturn and uncomprehending of all the things he doesn’t know, but trying to do the right thing in his way. And of course the setting, the harsh land in the country’s centre, is just as much a character as any person in the book.

The desert isolation, the unrelenting heat, the laconic humour, the often awkward relationships between blacks and whites all combine to form an unmistakably Australian story. It’s not always a pretty one though and no one could accuse Hyland of trying to make it so because he tackles touch subjects such as the rampant domestic abuse of women in Aboriginal communities, endemic poverty and racism. However he somehow manages to do it without once lecturing from a self-proclaimed moral high ground. That’s a much rarer trait than it ought to be in modern literature.

Next there is writing that made me simultaneously jealous at someone else’s ability to string words together in a way that I will never be able to and grateful that he didn’t keep his gift to himself.  This is from the opening chapter about an initiation

The town mob: fractured and deracinated they might have been, torn apart by idleness and violence, by Hollywood and booze. But moments like these, when people come together, when they try to recover the core, they gave you hope.

It was the songs that did it: the women didn’t so much sing them as pick them up like radio receivers. You could imagine those great song cycles rolling across country, taking their shape from what they encountered: scraps of language, minerals and dreams, a hawk’s flight, a feather’s fall, the flash of a meteorite.

The resonance of that music is everywhere, even here, on the outskirts of the whitefeller town, out among the rubbish dumps and truck yards. It sings along the wires, it rings off bitumen and steel.

I could go on but I’d end up quoting the whole book. In short, Hyland’s writing is a thing of beauty and the entire book is, in part, one long ode to its country.

Finally there is a great story and Gunshot Road is a more solid piece of crime fiction than its predecessor. For the first half of the novel there’s a fairly slow, humorous approach to the investigation as we’re introduced to all the players and people tease Emily about her new obsession. Then at a certain point the novel switches gears and speeds up as it becomes more serious and foreboding. Together these halves make up a perfectly paced story with a genuine nail-biting finish.

Heck the book even incorporates, glorifies actually, geology, my favourite science. What more could I possibly ask for? Gunshot Road is a funny, beautiful, sad and thoughtful book that everyone should read. Immediately.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 5/5

Publisher Quercus [2010]; ISBN 9781849162158; Length 369 pages

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I read, and loved, Adrian Hyland’s first novel featuring Emily Tempest, Diamond Dove (a.k.a Moonlight Downs in the US) last year.

Gunshot Road has also been reviewed at Aust Crime Fiction, International Noir Fiction, Kittling Books and Petrona

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25 Responses to Review: Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

  1. Bernadette – What a lovely review! As though I weren’t already very, very eager to read this one…. Thanks for whetting my appetite even more : ).

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  2. Maxine says:

    Great review, Bernadette. Like you, I was bowled over by this book. The combination of toughness and poetry, of plot and “feel the baking heat” atmosphere, the science jokes, the insights into human nature, the sheer emotion of it all – I adored it. Thanks for a wonderful review.

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  3. Bernadette, thanks for alerting me to this book. I will check it out immediately.
    Cheers,
    BK

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  4. amy says:

    This looks really good…I like how you describe it all. To me, and I’m not sure why, but it seems like men often write women better than women! I’ll look for this title!

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  5. Belle says:

    This looks like a series to be added to my TBR. Great review. Emily sounds like a very interesting main character.

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  6. kathy durkin says:

    Okay, this is such a good review that I’m tempted to put down “Truth,” which I’m in the midst of reading, and pick up “Gunshot Road,” which is my next book, sitting on the TBR pile. To be self-disciplined or not–that is the question.
    And I now think I should read it quickly so I can pass it on so others can enjoy it.

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  7. Jade says:

    This sounds amazing. I am also thrilled to find a blogger reviewing Australian literature! A budding writer myself, I have just started exploring local talent. My forays have been mostly into fantasy so far, but just from reading your last few posts, I have a lot more to look forward to.

    P.S. I adore your rating scale!

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  9. Cathy says:

    I thought you would love this book!

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  11. kathy durkin says:

    i

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  12. kathy durkin says:

    I am reading this book slowly, savoring every sentence. Hyland obviously thought about every sentence and word. Every paragraph is carefully crafted. I try to rush through books but not this one. I am taking it slowly, like a delicious dessert, tasting every bite, as I smile often and laugh frequently.
    I wish every writer took as much care with the writing instead of rushing through a plot. This is a book that transcends the genre.

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  13. I am so pleased you are enjoying it Kathy and I agree it is a different kind of writing than the normal. To be honest there’s only one problem, I have really struggled to read anything since finishing it, everything I pick up is kind of ho hum after Gunshot Road

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  14. Jose Ignacio says:

    I was trying not to add more books to my wish list during a couple of months. Wishful thinking. I must read this one.

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  15. kathy durkin says:

    Yes; there is the post-good-book syndrome. I actually had it after finishing “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,” but read a light, witty book and then picked up “Truth,” and now “Gunshot Road.” And I’ll suffer from it when I’m finished with that so have to plan the next books.

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  17. Amanda says:

    Hi there,

    I actually live and work in the Australian Outback with Aboriginal people (I’m an anthropologist). I can tell you that Adrian Hyland’s books are simply the best fiction representations I’ve ever seen of Outback Australia, Aboriginal people and what life is really like.

    Gunshot Road is a dozen little towns that I could think of, and its characters are people I know and work with every day.

    Read this book if you’ve EVER wanted an adventure in the Outback but just couldn’t make it… yet.

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  20. shelleyrae@ Book'd Out says:

    I’ve just reserved both books in the series at my local library. Thanks!

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  21. I hope you like them shelleyrae, I would definitely read them in order if you can.

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