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Posted on 11 Apr 2024 in Crime Scene, Fiction |

GARRY DISHER Sanctuary. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

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A new crime novel by Garry Disher is always exciting. In Sanctuary, he introduces a new protagonist: a female lone wolf.

Meet Grace. She’s a very good thief, having been taught by experts and practising since she was a kid. Specialising in small, high-value hauls, she’s mobile and extremely astute – this is a woman who knows her Jaeger-LeCoultre watches from the Patek Philippes. She’s also always moving, very watchful, cautious to a fault. And tired of that life.

She’d been calling herself Grace for a while now. Too long, probably. She’d be safer using one of the other names, of which she had a few stashed away, culled from death notices and gravestones over the years. But she’d grown into Grace, somehow. It was a long way from Anita, her name in the orphanage in western Sydney.

There have been a lot of ‘mentors’ and associates in Grace’s life over the years who worked with her and taught her the basics that she’s developed into an art. As you’d expect with a young woman, and a lot of men, some of these relationships have been manipulative, some convenient, and some mutually beneficial. Her entire background, most importantly, has taught her to be self-reliant, self-contained, and very independent.

It’s an encounter with one of the men from her past at a stamp fair, where they are both definitely up to something, that sends her running, looking for somewhere to lie low. So a help wanted sign on the front of Erin Mandel’s rural antique shop is exactly what she’s after – she has already worked out a legend (background story) for exactly this type of job: the family business in New Zealand, parents tragically killed, similar language, further away, harder to check. But Erin’s friendly, laid back and doesn’t seem to need to check past the items she asks her to evaluate in the shop. In addition to the job, she can also solve the problem of accommodation, and feels just the sort of person that Grace could come to like, although trust is a big step away.

A lot of Grace’s life was hoping for luck; a much smaller part was encountering it.

In time, it turns out that Erin has a hidden past as well – and someone is looking for her.

Soon as he found her again, he’d remind her of the calibre of man she was dealing with.

At the same time, Grace’s past is about to catch up with her.

Username elbow-grease, one of his Telegram contacts, had just encountered Anita. Except she’s calling herself Grace now.

Both pursuers are very dangerous men, and while the women might be on edge all the time, they may not know just how close the threat is getting.

Fans of Disher’s work could see some similarities between Grace and his more well-known unrepentant thief and lone wolf, Wyatt. There are a lot of resonances in the ways both characters plan fall-back positions, set up emergency stashes, scope out every location, and always have an exit plan. Each is an expert in their own particular field, and each is resilient and admirable, no matter how uncomfortable that might make readers – or Grace herself – feel.

… funds were running low; she’d need to pull a job before long. And why was she thinking about pulling another job when she was also trying to go straight? Was that her true nature somehow?

No. She didn’t need to be like that. It was just old thoughts, old habits, creeping in again.

The interesting twist in Sanctuary is that Erin and Grace seem to be a case of opposites attracting, and their friendship is almost instantaneous. But there’s more to Erin than you realise.

Erin, settling onto the chair beside the bed again, kicked off her shoes and slurped at her tea. ‘It’s all safe,’ she said.


‘All your stuff, both stashes. It’s all safe.’

In Sanctuary, fans of Disher’s work will also see another excellent example of the way he can seamlessly write place, character and action using a straightforward, matter-of-fact tone that’s lyrical in its sparsity, laconic (except when it isn’t), and effortlessly engaging. His style is quintessentially Australian in tone and wit, and he can draw word pictures that resonate:

Friday, Auction Day. As Grace drove to work, her old Toyota clanked, shook, whined and stuttered – the music of her days.

Within the crime fiction world, it is rightly acknowledged that Garry Disher is a giant of Australian fiction. He writes elegantly with such a clear way of showing the reader the situations his characters find themselves in, and the resourcefulness with which they manage their predicaments.

He should be lauded outside the genre as well; this is a writer deserving of every accolade that comes his way.

Garry Disher Sanctuary Text Publishing 2024 PB 320pp $34.99

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

You can buy Sanctuary 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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