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Posted on 14 Dec 2023 in Crime Scene, Fiction |

ADRIAN HYLAND The Wiregrass. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

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In Adrian Hyland’s latest crime novel, Jesse Redpath is back, stationed in a new town during a time of stormy weather.

The much anticipated follow-up to Canticle Creek, The Wiregrass is set in the temperate rainforest area of Victoria in the fictional town of Satellite. Jesse Redpath is a cop, recently transferred from the Northern Territory to a new job in the town after the events of Canticle Creek.

If you’re not familiar with Adrian Hyland’s crime fiction, you’ll find that he has a keen eye for character, pace and environment, all of which intertwine to create atmospheric and tense storytelling. The Wiregrass opens in the middle of a major storm, with emergency services stretched to the limit by floods, landslips, downed trees and people drink driving or attempting to cross flooded rivers. New to the station, and undergoing a baptism-by-weather, Jess is working with Senior Constable Lance Cunningham at the site of a drunken-driver car accident when they are called to a downed tree that’s killed somebody.

A series of obstacles – a couple of skids and a washout, a minor bog – meant the trip took a little longer than expected. By the time we arrived at Wycliff there were other emergency works on the scene: ambos, fireys, State Emergency Services, police.

The later were from Greendale. The vehicle was a BMW M3 Competition, the best and newest car in the fleet. That suggested somebody senior.

There are trees dropping everywhere in this weather and the fact that this one has taken out a local farmer on his Fergie tractor does seem like one of those tragic accidents – until the bells ringing start to deafen Jesse and she takes a closer look. Though not before she has to drag somebody attempting to cross a flooded bridge to safety, and finds herself a tricky new love interest who has rescued a turtle from in front of the police car.

I did my best to drive carefully, but it had been a long couple of days and I may have slipped into autopilot. The rain hammered unabated, visibility was shit. I was a minute down the road when I caught sight of a strange object – a rock? A fragment of wood? In the middle of the bitumen. I slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. I was going to collect it.

Then, somehow, a shadowy, shrouded figure flew in the from the left …

The shadowy figure is Nash, a gentle sort of bloke who lives a quiet, secluded life and, it transpires, is instantly attractive. Attractive enough that within a few hours of meeting they are very preoccupied in front of an open fire when Nash receives some unexpected visitors.

I kicked out at another attacker, connected, followed up with a double punch, likewise. Somebody grabbed me by the waist and dragged me down. How many of them were there?

Then discernible words emerged from the chaos.

‘Armed police!’

Perhaps it was his rescuing of injured wedgetail eagles, maybe it was the soup he’d made on a bitterly cold wet night, but Jesse’s convinced this is a mistake. The Homicide Squad have got the wrong man for his neighbour’s death by falling tree. There’s no way Nash has killed somebody. Although it turns out there is quite a bit more to Nash’s story that maybe Jesse should have found out before falling into a sexual encounter with him. As the head of the Homicide Squad explains when Jesse confronts him:

‘Aside from the fact that your boyfriend’s a convicted killer whose prints were found on a chainsaw file at the Wycliff crime scene and who was heard making threats against the victim a few days ago, not much. We might have more by the time we’ve finished examining his house and car.’

Naturally Jesse sets out to prove that Nash had nothing to do with the death on the night of the storm, if only to show that her judgement wasn’t off the mark. Along the way, Nash’s connection with the remote parts of the area stir a similar reaction in Jesse, and she and his dog Flinders prowl the history of his earlier conviction – along with the evidence and locations involved in this current case – to demonstrate that Nash is no more a killer than she is. Luckily, she’s not completely alone in this endeavour, with some support from locals, and from within the force.

He must have called in every favour and collected every debt he was ever owed. He’d gone over every significant case in which Nash had been involved, done a load of cutting and pasting, attached extra information – press clippings, records of evidence and witness statements, photographs – wherever it seemed relevant.

Jesse is sure the answer to all of this lies in the past. Nash was raised within a dangerous cult that, despite the supposed deaths of the two ringleaders, seems very much alive still. There also seem to be a lot of people who would much rather she wasn’t doing this. The cult had help in a lot of places:

‘The Patmoses had an undercover army of experts – doctors, accountants, even coppers, rumour had it – who were ready to do their bidding: carry out autopsies, forge papers, bury the evidence and cover their tracks …’

The influence of the Revelators, as the cult was known, is still wide and, it turns out, runs much deeper than Jesse could ever have imagined. But Jesse isn’t easy to dissuade once she starts down an investigative path, regardless of what’s happening around her. Her living arrangements are decidedly poor, her career is under threat, her personal comfort non-existent, and the weather is constantly atrocious. Flinders is injured (and survives, for those who can’t cope with animal cruelty), and Jesse stays doggedly in pursuit of the facts. There is a bit of a feeling that she’s doing this because of the attraction she feels for Nash, but there’s also an unwavering commitment to the truth that’s been obvious since the first novel in this series.

There is much about the location that will ring bells for anybody who is aware of what temperate rainforest can feel like – constantly wet and foggy, or on fire (Canticle Creek). They can be places of extremes, including people with extreme beliefs. There are circumstances here that are clearly reminiscent of a real-life group in a similar location that could echo very loudly for a lot of readers.

Adrian Hyland The Wiregrass 2023 Ultimo Press PB 320pp $34.99

Karen Chisholm blogs from, where she posts book reviews as well as author biographies.

You can buy The Wiregrass from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW or you can buy it from Booktopia.

You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.

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