Saturday, June 29, 2019
Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher
Acting Sergeant Alan Auhl is back working for the police department after a five-year absence. He retired from the Homicide Squad at fifty, suffering from burn out. However, he was invited back to work on the Cold Case Unit. A few of the youngsters resent and ridicule him, calling him Retread, but he ignores them. He understands that he's blocking someone's upward mobility. But, the police department can use his skills. There have been 280 unsolved murders in Victoria since the 1950s, and 1000 missing person cases. Many of those were undoubtedly murders as well.
Auhl remembers some of the active cases that are now cold ones, such as the death of John Elphick. Every October, the Elphick sisters call on the anniversary of their father's death. They're sure Elphick was murdered. And, Auhl pours over the case because he's "obsessive, in a good way. He'd agonized that he missed something." He's the perfect cop for cold cases.
When a family man, a snake handler and a contractor find a skeleton under a slab, that case is referred to the Cold Case Unit. The skeleton is too old for Homicide. But, it's a complex case that will take time as the team digs through old property records and contacts former tenants. Even Auhl's boss refers to that case as "Slab Man".
Auhl will never forget "Blackbeard", the doctor. He's still convinced the man murdered his first two wives to marry his girlfriend. Now, the doctor himself is complaining that his latest wife is trying to kill him, and that she killed his current girlfriend.
One of the strengths of Disher's writing is the way he combines the public life and work of the police with their private lives. Auhl is the owner of a large sprawling house, a dwelling for waifs and misfits. He takes in strays, women and children who left abusive men, international students, even a colleague. His college-age daughter lives there, and his ex-wife comes and goes from the second floor. Disher once said he wants the readers to feel a sense of community, and he builds that through the personal lives of his characters.
And, Auhl's personal life, his obsessive interest in cases and people, will surprise the reader. He's not just a fifty-five-year-old man back on the police force. At the moment, Under the Cold Bright Lights is a standalone. It's a shame. I would love to see Alan Auhl return in a future book.
Note:Nine years ago, Garry Disher did a book tour in the U.S., and I was lucky enough to host him for an afternoon. If you're interested, you can read that blog post. I still find it fascinating. http://bit.ly/2YaSXXS
Garry Disher's website is www.garrydisher.com
Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher. Soho Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781641290579 (hardcover), 312p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received my book to review for a journal.