Book review: The Way It Is Now, Garry Disher

A mystery fiction that's more a whydunnit than a whodunnit.

The Way It is Now is set in and around Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular in early 2020 against the backdrop of a hot summer, bushfires and the early signs of an only recently named virus. The gloom is palpable, but so is the beauty and restorative power of the ocean and beaches. While the story is more intriguing than happy, the attraction of the Mornington Peninsula – where many Garry Disher novels are set – always shines through.

The central character, Charlie Deravin, is a policeman suspended on full pay for striking a superior officer. This gives him time to renew his investigation of the mysterious disappearance of his mother 20 years ago. For Charlie is obsessed by his desire to find out what happened to his mother; it is an obsession that helped ruin his marriage and has done nothing to help his career. Charlie’s life is further complicated by his growing involvement with Anna, a new friend who has also antagonised the police, not by hitting someone but by being a whistleblower. She has publicly pointed the finger at a blatantly biased jury unwilling to properly consider the evidence pointing to a rapist – a man with powerful connections to the local police and who just happens to be a very promising young football player.

Charlie is painfully honest, stubbornly persistent and not overly bright. As his friendship with Anna blossoms, so too do his suspicions of some current and former members of the local police force. Not even Charlie’s father, himself a former policeman, is exempt from scrutiny. And this suspicion of police corruption extends to the rape case as well.

The tenuous connections between the two key plots – the disappearance of a woman and the alleged rape – make for an intriguing read. Unfortunately, the story develops at too leisurely a pace, certainly too leisurely for this genre. This is not to say that every mystery should be written as a page-turner à la James Patterson or John Grisham, but readers attuned to the excitement of such authors may find this work a little leisurely.

While the pace is slow, the characterisation – even of minor players – is strong, as evidenced by the rendering of one of the more pleasant characters in the novel, Mrs Ehrlich. She is a friendly neighbour of Charlie’s, and speaking of a long-dead acquaintance at her memorial service, she says:

But what I remember most is her self-deprecatory, teasing manner. She didn’t take the world seriously and yet she took it very seriously. She didn’t doubt herself and yet never big-noted herself. Whenever the world around her became too altered, she brought it back on track.

(Such glowing eulogies always make you wonder why nice things are so often said about a person only when they can no longer hear them.)

Read: Book review: Danged Black Thing, Eugen Bacon

Garry Disher explores police corruption, broken marriages and poor communication in a subtle way, letting Charlie tell the story and presenting all the other characters through Charlie’s eyes. It is a whydunnit more than a whodunnit; the motivation for the main crime is at the heart of the matter. 

There are almost enough clues to lead the reader to figure out who did what – and in particular, why – before all is revealed in the final exciting denouement. The strength of this novel is not only as a puzzle to be unravelled by the astute reader but is a journey of discovery into some of the less pleasant aspects of those who are prepared to bend the law. 

The Way It Is Now, Garry Disher
Publisher: Text Publishing
ISBN: 9781922458162 
Pages: 416pp
RRP: $32.99
Publication: 2 November 2021

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer.