It is late September, and the Wet is coming to Darwin. Or rather the Build Up is happening. The temperatures and the humidity are rising, every day just a little more. 33 year old Detective Dusty Buchanon of the NT Police Force is originally from Adelaide. Until recently she had a boyfrined. Now she doesn’t.
Dusty has been working on the McVeigh case for nearly two years. Now a body has been found in the desert and it is almost certainly the abducted woman. But Dusty’s new boss has decided to take her off the case. Even before the body had been found, a case had been brought against a suspect, but he walked free.
But the Top End is never long without crime. Two weeks later there are rumours of a female body in a billabong. The location is very near a Vietnam Veterans bush camp, but when Dusty and her partner investigate there is nothing to see. Still the rumours persist, and when Dusty eventually locates a body buried near the billabong it is male not female.
There is a lot to like about THE BUILD UP. If you’ve ever been to Darwin you’ll recognise the names of streets and cafes, and somehow Gwynne has captured the essence of the place. I felt as if culturally I had been dropped right in it. And there are some wonderfully drawn characters including Dusty herself, newcomer Flick Roberts-Thomson, ex-footballer Trigger Tregenza, the Dutch policeman Tomasz, Viet veteran Barry O’Loughlin, and Trace born as the cyclone raged. Dusty seems to move effortlessly through a number of communities: the itinerant aborigines who camp in the parklands around Darwin; conversing in Indonesian with waiters in restaurants.
It is not just the interesting characters he draws though. Gwynne writes in a language that feels at once local and authentic. I couldn’t help wondering whether the book will have much appeal outside Australia. Are there too many idioms that will puzzle? There are references to cases like Azaria Chamberlain, places like the Emerald City – I wonder what a non-Australian reader will make of that? Perhaps it won’t matter.
If you read Australian crime fiction, then this is certainly a book to look for.
My rating: 4.7
THE BUILD UP has been shortlisted for the 2009 Ned Kelly Awards.
SBS have announced that they will be making a 13 part television series set in the Top End, in and around Darwin. Titled Dusty, the show will follow the trials of the crime-fighting police detective working in the self-styled ‘capital of the second chance’.