Dark Country, by Bronwyn Parry
The second title in a planned trilogy set in the Australian Outback, Dark Country takes the reader back to the small town of Dungirri. Kris Matthews, the heroine, was first introduced in the course of the previous novel, As Darkness Falls (review here). The hero is bad boy Morgan “Gil” Gillespie, son of the area’s drunk.
Here’s the pretty accurate back cover blurb (from the author’s website):
Most people in the small town of Dungirri have considered Morgan ‘Gil’ Gillespie a murderer for eighteen years, so he expects no welcome on his return. What he doesn’t expect is the discovery of a woman’s tortured body in the boot of his car, and new accusations of murder.
Wearied by too many deaths and doubting her own skills, local police sergeant Kris Matthews isn’t sure whether Gil is a decent man wronged by life, or a brutal criminal she should be locking up. But she does know that he is not guilty of this murder – because she is his alibi . . .
Between organised crime, police corruption, and the hatred of a town, Gil has nowhere to hide. He needs to work out who’s behind the murder before his enemies realise that the one thing more punishing than putting him back in prison would be to harm the few people he cares about.
Kris is determined to help him, but will their search for the truth make her the next target?
My beloved Issek and I had the opportunity of reading this book together recently… (he received a copy, gratis, from the author, and I received an ARC, idem) so, after much cajoling and begging (and perhaps just a wee bit of pouting) he agreed to do another joint review with me.
warning: long conversational review ahead!
azteclady: So let’s talk about the book, starting with the setting: Dungirri
Issek: Dungirri, which seems to be pretty lively for a town on the edge of the outback, is attempting a civic revival. Dungirri, scene of recent, and not-so-recent tragedies.
azteclady: As the novel starts, bad boy Gil is coming back to town in a scene that mirrors some of the most traumatic events of his past.
Issek: It is then that he meets local gendarme (or Broderick, if you’re that old, like me), Kris Matthews on the outskirts of the town and thus begins a beautiful, if a bit rocky, at times, “friendship”. Can we say he isn’t exactly given the prodigal son treatment by certain elements of the town?
azteclady: oh we can! In fact, we must. But let’s backtrack just a bit, please. Gil has come back to Dungirri to repay a benefactor from those same traumatic events. This is one of the last things he’ll do before pulling a Houdini on some rather… well, shady elements back in Sydney. Unfortunately, when he can’t locate her, he bumps into some of those not-very-welcoming elements.
Issek: Which was almost inevitable, given that the town has—as far as I can tell—exactly two possible places for a person to do any waiting – the pub/hotel and the Truck Stop. In any event, we learn quickly that he hasn’t been entirely forgiven by the populace, at least not by all of it, even though the law did (he was exonerated). Whatever, he gets pretty well thumped.
azteclady: … which results in his and Kris’ friendship becoming “intimate” rather quickly, as he spends the night in her spare bedroom while she checks that he’s not going to fall into a coma from a possible concussion.
Issek: Fortunately for Gil, that act of kindness (the bed for the night—by himself *ahem*) sets up his alibi for the next contretemps. Not that the detectives from the (whatever the Australians call it—it seems to be something like a county seat or provincial headquarters—the next town over I mean) believe him, much.
azteclady: You mean Birraga, right? Contretemps: finding the body of a close associate in the boot of his car. From there, things spiral out of control.
Issek: So, you said they got “intimate” but they didn’t really get intimate, if you know what I mean (and I think you do) [HT to Heaving Bosoms]
Anyway, after a not-so-pleasant few hours inside the police station over at Birrage, Kris and Gil return to Dungirri…
Issek: and thus begins a convoluted tale of past meets present, unkown relations…
azteclady: … sleeping crimes…
Issek: … ugly connections that reach into the heart of the town and some very bad characters back in Gil’s previous life. I have to ask… what did you think about his “inheritance”?
azteclady: I would have to say that it’s the only part of the novel that feels a tad contrived to me. You?
Issek: Me too, I was willing to suspend disbelief, but I really could have used a little more detail about his benefactor’s life that would have convinced me this was really something he would’ve done.
azteclady: Yes, exactly. Other than a passage, much later on in the novel, wherein a secondary character gives a bit of insight into this benefactor’s psyche… well, he’s just a tad flat, wouldn’t you say?
Issek: I mean, the details we’re given about the rest of his activities kind of made that a hard pill to swallow. oops, stepped on your lines
azteclady: Heh! No, it’s cool, and I agree, completely.
Issek: Yes, I would say that maybe because we don’t really see him, we’re just told about him
azteclady: Yes! and the thing is, there are other characters that we barely see in the course of the story, yet they are vivid and complex and alive *thinking of Jeanie and Megan*
Issek: What about the other two parts of Gil’s past? Yes (you’re too fast) I’m thinking about his father and Megan, here.
azteclady: ah, yes!
Issek: The way he was “raised” was interesting, didn’t you think? I mean considering how “normal” he seemed
azteclady: Quite the well adapted and… well, decent is the word that comes to mind, for someone raised that way, I agree. Jeanie’s influence, of course.
Issek: Yes. Ms Parry put a lot of threads together in this book
azteclady: Yes and that makes it more remarkable that the pacing was so even. There were a lot of incidents, most of them increasingly intense, happening in a staccato kind of rhythm…
Issek: Yes—and tying them all up was done in a pretty believable manner—at least for me.
azteclady: … and it held pretty well all the way up to the last few pages.
Issek: You maybe think the ending wasn’t as neat as, perhaps, I did? Too easy?
azteclady: Oh no no
azteclady: I liked the ending a lot; what I mean is that the pace changed, drastically.
azteclady: From intense, fast, rushing down the slope kinda thing…
azteclady: … to leisurely and sleepy like … Dungirri
Issek: I wouldn’t say sleepy, but we did get more explanation at the end—which wasn’t very intense, you’re right (at least not intense in the same way as the previous headlong rush to get to the climax). Shall we talk about characterizations?
azteclady: Let’s, please!
Issek: The interesting thing to me, was how well the minor characters seemed to come alive, with very little—seeming—effort on Ms Parry’s part. And she didn’t resort, too much, to stereotypes.
azteclady: Too much? Care to expand on that? As for the secondary characters coming alive: I’ll agree that most did, very well. The glaring exception would be Gil’s second benefactor
Issek: well, just a little bit of stereotyping for Megan, don’t you think?
azteclady: Really? You think so? I really don’t myself.
Issek: I pictured her—Megan—as a kind of goth Aussie girl, stuck with grandparents who don’t understand her—and not really like what her exterior would lead you to believe. Ms Parry sets us up with the stereotype, then makes us re-examine our perceptions by not making that stereotype all that Megan is.
azteclady: Oh I see! Yes, I agree completely—Megan is individual in her actions and reactions.
Issek: I agree with you about the benefactor, somewhat. I didn’t really know what to think about him… bad guy? good guy? saint? devil?
azteclady: Benefactor: I think he was one of the characters closest to stereotype—but I’m not sure I can go into further detail without entering spoiler territory.
Issek: Sean Barrett, one of Dungirri’s not very welcoming committee, is the closest to stereotypical brainless thug, I thought. Him and Tony—one of the wiseguys form Sydney.
azteclady: Yes, Sean Barrett, Tony and his cousin… Sergio?
Issek: Sergio may have a few more gray cells than Tony or Sean
azteclady: But he was mostly a… well, a plot device, woudln’t you say?
Issek: Yes, he didn’t get a lot of screen time—they talked about him more than anything
azteclady: It’s more than that, really. He was there to provide motivation and an explanation to some of the action… and that’s it.
Issek: I agree. What about, Kris, Gil, and Jeanie? And the two detectives? I thought they were well drawn, and wanted to know more about Kris & Gil’s history—and I wasn’t disappointed when I got it
azteclady: Oh yes!
Issek: And, as bizarre as some of the events in Gil’s life had been, they made sense insofar as the persona we see in the book
azteclady: Yes yes and yes—and the same for Kris; her backstory was a bit sketchier, if you will but complete enough to make sense with who she is here.
Issek: Yes, not as much of her life as of Gil’s but no inconsistencies in her. She was a good cop, for one thing. Never let anything get in the way of that.
azteclady: But she was not only a good cop, she is a sensible person and strong in the ways that truly count
Issek: eminently sensible—“good head on her shoulders” is the expression that comes to mind.
azteclady: Yes, exactly
Issek: A question for you. During the fire incident… what do you remember the most about that? What was the most memorable thing…?
azteclady: Gil going back to get Jeanie’s husband’s picture
Issek: YES!!!! Exactly! It was the perfect thing for him to do, and he did it! So, we agree about the very good characterizations. What about the overall plot and, importantly, the ending?
azteclady: Well, I think the plot was very well brought together even though there were a couple of places where I wondered whether we were going to be treated to one of those “blonde in a nightgown going down to the basement” things
Issek: I thought the ending came about as close as you can get to going over some sort of over-the-topness line, but didn’t go over it
Issek: It worked, as far as I was concerned. One thing that helped the believability of the ending, for me, was Gil’s first encounter with Sean, ne c’est pas? Because of that first encounter, I believed the ending. At least more easily. Well done, Ms Parry!
azteclady: So… your grade?
Issek: hmmmm 8.25. It almost went to 8.5, but yeah, 8.25. I really liked the book
azteclady1: Really? Then why not higher? (to me it’s a 9.25)
Issek: Little things—the benefactor story, maybe a little too much of the lust-at-first-sight
azteclady: Heh! Here is probably where being foremost a romance reader makes me see the whole thing differently. I stand by my 9.25
Issek: I can respect that. Our average grade , then, is 8.75—pretty good, and I’d recommend this book to anyone… BUT WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Issek: We haven’t discussed my theory about the truly evil and devious genius in the book, the character so ingenious that he/she even fooled the author!!!! Don’t you wanna talk about that????
azteclady: Yes, of course *patient sigh* I’m all ears… erm… eyes
Issek: noh, I’m good… *pout* nah, really, I’ll wait for the next book then shout I told you SO!!!!
azteclady: … *cough* …