Publishers Blurb (Penguin Australia)
In 1947, two years after witnessing the death of a young Jewish woman in Poland, Charlie Berlin has rejoined the police force a different man. Sent to investigate a spate of robberies in rural Victoria, he soon discovers that World War II has changed even the most ordinary of places and people.
An ex-bomber pilot and former POW, Berlin is struggling to fit back in: grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder, the ghosts of his dead crew and his futile attempts to numb the pain.
When Berlin travels to Albury-Wodonga to track down the gang behind the robberies, he suspects he’s a problem cop being set up to fail. Taking a room at the Diggers Rest Hotel in Wodonga, he sets about solving a case that no one else can – with the help of feisty, ambitious journalist Rebecca Green and rookie constable Rob Roberts, the only cop in town he can trust.
Then the decapitated body of a young girl turns up in a back alley, and Berlin’s investigations lead him ever further through layers of small-town fears, secrets and despair.
The first Charlie Berlin mystery takes us into a world of secret alliances and loyalties – and a society dealing with the effects of a war that changed men forever.
For me, Geoff McGeachin has hit on a winner with this new series and I hope we see more of Charlie Berlin. It appealed to me on several fronts – historical, crime fiction, Australia.
Set in post-war Australia, this time post World War Two, with a policeman returning to work in a world that will never be the same, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL reminded me a lot of the Charles Todd series. Like Ian Rutledge in that series Charlie Berlin was in the police force before the war. Although the police force was an exempt trade he volunteered for service and was posted to the RAF in Britain. He took off on 30 missions over Germany, but, in his words, landed only 29 of them and ended up a P.O.W.
Now two years after the war he has returned to work, and found that those who didn’t go are now in charge, in positions he should be occupying. He feels like a square peg in a round hole, and, like Rutledge, is sent from the city to the country to solve a crime. He is still suffering from post-war stress and has blackouts and nightmares. Like Rutledge too Charlie is met with local suspicion and hostility and demands for quick results from his superiors back in Melbourne.
McGeachin has taken care with the historical detail and it gives the novel a great feeling of authenticity. (You get the feeling that McGeachin is describing a world he knows well.) Berlin has come back to a world fractured by the war. Australian society is trying to absorb the returnees, women who took on men’s jobs during the war are expected to relinquish them, and for some of the returned servicemen there is no work. There is no excitement either. Areas like Albury-Wodonga where THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL is set are littered with munitions and equipment from abandoned army camps and weapons stashes. Some of the ex-servicemen do not believe the government is doing what it should and private militias appear to provide an answer to many problems.
You can probably tell that I very much enjoyed Charlie Berlin’s initial case and hope we see more.
My rating: 4.8
This is a very different novel to McGeachin’s D-E-D DEAD! which I also reviewed.
Other reviews of THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL to check