Detective Inspector Hal Challis is a homicide investigator who works in the Peninsula region near Melbourne, Australia. He consults across the police departments in the area – a nice conceit so the series won’t make one small town seem like the Sunnydale of serial killers! His role requires tact, as he steps in to provide expertise, It also requires him to get a strong sense of the officers he will work with, and they are a complex lot. A few thugs, some questionable personal decisions, and the lasting effects of on-the-job accident paint a fairly nuanced picture of police officers in a small town.
The Peninsula is a dry, dry part of Victoria, made dryer by a drought, but surrounded on three sides by the ocean. It is possible to surf everyday while water barrels are going dry and the risk of fire is high. Tensions are also quite high because there is a murderer on the loose who targets young women hitchhiking along the highway.
The landscape and the challenging, but beautiful, environment are certainly the standouts in this novel. The plot is fairly predictable, although the plodding nature and high stress of police work is well presented and surprisingly engaging. There are a lot of characters introduced and it isn’t always clear why they are featured so prominently – you wonder if they or their interests will play key roles in the crime solving, but more often than not, they don’t. Despite this, the terrific glimpse you get of this part of Australia, so different than the Australia depicted in, say, the Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte mysteries, is wonderful. I recommend this series for that alone.