It’s two years since the end of the second World War and Charlie Berlin has returned to Australia, having been a bomber pilot in Europe then a POW in Poland. It’s fair to say Charlie’s was a grim wartime experience and he is still haunted by things he saw and did. Upon returning to work as a Detective Constable in Melbourne he learns that all the colleagues he started out with have moved up the hierarchy (the police force was exempt from the military draft and officers were discouraged from volunteering but Charlie had family reasons for joining up) and he gets all the worst assignments. Which is why he’s the one sent to rural Victoria, on the border with New South Wales, to investigate a spate of armed robberies, the latest of which resulted in a paymaster being badly injured. He arrives in town to be greeted by a young constable, Rob Roberts, who will drive him around (and report back to the local Sergeant who is not entirely happy to have someone from the city on his turf) and the two form a complementary team of investigators with Charlie supplying the experience and Roberts providing the local knowledge.
The historical aspects of the novel are extremely well done; feeling authentic through the use of interesting details but not overblown with evidence of the author’s research. Everything from the rationing that the country was still experiencing to the kinds of foods that might have been served in a country pub at that time to the photographic equipment and techniques utilised by the adventurous female photo-journalist that Charlie encounters during his investigation are both accurate and woven into the story seamlessly. Some of the less pleasant aspects of life during the time are also well depicted including the fairly shabby treatment of anyone who wasn’t white. It really did feel like I was transported back to the time, a factor helped I think by the excellent narration of the audio book in which the language and slang were pronounced to fit in with the period.
In that crime fiction has something of a plethora of men who have returned from war forever changed Charlie Berlin is not a particularly unique character. However his particular trials and tribulations are engagingly teased out and his character does have a solidly credible feel to it. Through his conversations with Rebecca Green, the photo-journalist, and the memories that sometimes stop him dead in his tracks (and send him reaching for the whisky bottle) we learn enough about his war time experiences to sympathise and feel sorrow for Charlie and the thousands of others like him. We see too through the investigation how the war has impacted on other returned soldiers and the families of those who didn’t make it back.
In the end it is Charlie’s understanding of these impacts on various people that enables him to work out not only who has been committing the robberies but also who isn’t (and then who is) responsible for the rather grim murder that takes place while he is in the town. The crime solving here at times appears to almost be an after thought but that would be too simplistic a way of looking at things. Charlie believes that you need to know a place and its people in order to solve a crime and his meandering from crime scene to crime scene and meetings with various people in the town all do have a purpose. The upside for readers is that we too get a sense that we’re really getting under the skin of the town at the same time as we meet all manner of poignant and intriguing characters. Like the wife of the Diggers Rest Hotel publican who is beaten sometimes because her husband is enraged at having been injured before he could go to war, or the retired WWI Captain who is so convinced that communists will be invading some time soon that he is raising his own militia.
A tiny part of me is, I admit, a trifle weary from reading about the horrible experiences of people returning from wars. No matter how many times the consequences are depicted in harrowing ways we seem, collectively, to jump at almost any chance to fight and kill and hate all over again so I do sometimes wonder if there is any point. But if it is going to be done then it should be done well, and McGeachin has done a first rate job here, capturing both the universal truths that are associated with the experiences and the peculiarly Australian, somewhat laconic way of dealing with the nightmares and other repercussions (a combination of beer, football and the occasional bit of pointless biffo). With down-to-earth, very believable characters and a strong, enveloping sense of place and time THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL is a top notch work of historical crime fiction.
Kerrie has already provided her thoughts on THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL (and she enjoyed it very much)
My rating: 4/5
Narrator: Peter Byrne
Publisher: Bolinda audio 
ISBN: N/A downloaded from audible.com
Length: 8 hours, 18 minutes
Source: I bought it