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Review: The Night Whistler by Greg Woodland

on August 12, 2020

The Night Whistler
Greg Woodland
Text Publishing
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

It’s 1966. Hal and his little brother, newly arrived in Moorabool with their parents, are exploring the creek near their new home when they find the body of a dog.

Not just dead, but recently killed.

Not just killed, but mutilated.

Constable Mick Goodenough, recently demoted from his city job as a detective, is also new in town—and one of his dogs has gone missing. He’s experienced enough to know what it means when someone tortures an animal to death: it means they’re practising. So when Hal’s mother starts getting anonymous calls—a man whistling, then hanging up—Goodenough, alone among the Moorabool cops, takes her seriously.

The question is: will that be enough to keep her safe?

Nostalgic yet clear-eyed, simmering with small-town menace, Greg Woodland’s wildly impressive debut populates the rural Australia of the 1960s with memorable characters and almost unbearable tension.

I feel sort of obliged to give a content warning on this – mutilated animals and pretty graphic descriptions thereof.

Hal Humphries and his family – dad, mum, younger brother – are new to the town of Moorabool, where they’ve moved for their father’s job. Their mother is not very happy with the move, even less so when it seems that her husband’s new job will take him on the road for large stretches of time, leaving her isolated in this small town with two young boys.  Shortly after they arrive, Hal and his younger brother find the mutilated body of a German Shepherd, which they do their best to bury.

Mick Goodenough (pronounced Good-no) was once a detective in Sydney. However a case went very wrong and he finds himself demoted severely. He’s now a probationary Constable in this town, under the jurisdiction of a less-than-ideal Sergeant boss who has no time for what he deems to be Mick’s whims and fancies. In disgrace, Mick should be making coffee and sucking up, not trying to rock the boat in their small town by asking questions and definitely not poking around in the business of respected local residents.

Mick finds plenty to get involved in – not only is his dog one of the animals that is brutally murdered but he also finds himself tangled up with the Humphries family when he’s the only one who takes seriously the call by Mrs Humphries about a man making frightening phone calls to her, as well as the fact that she’s seen a prowler outside her house at night. The rest of the police staff mostly dismiss this as the pranks of a “harmless pervert” but Mick isn’t so sure. And the more he investigates, the more he thinks the person making the phone calls, nicknamed the Whistler because of the fact that he whistles a song down the line, is connected to other, more sinister happenings in the town.

Set in a small town in New South Wales during a scorching hot summer, this is a stellar debut compromising everything that a lot of people will find familiar about Australian rural life. It’s set before my time (the 1960s) but with a complex history and tension between the white and local Aboriginal population that still seems familiar. When the Humphries family moves to the town, it’s at the behest of Dad John and his wife Corrie isn’t particularly pleased. There’s the boss to impress as well as some subtle indication from his wife about who in the town Corrie should and shouldn’t be directing her attention to. Their young sons, particularly Hal enjoy a freedom that was probably common of the time – out riding bikes and scooters, exploring the local area, particularly a place with a caravan which was the site of a gruesome crime some years before.

There is a lot going on here but without the plot feeling overcomplicated. A lot of the story is seen through Hal’s eyes – he’s about 12, and sometimes this shines through as he watches incidents without really understanding a lot of what he’s seeing. In some cases, he’s probably trying not to as he’s negotiating the adult relationships of people he cares about where he’s set in what he wants to see vs what he is actually seeing. The rest of the story is told from Mick’s perspective as he deals with his humiliating probation, forced to do general dogsbody duties for a bunch of mostly incompetent at best, country cops when he used to be a detective in Sydney. Mick isn’t a snob however – he treats this case in Moorabool, which starts with a mutilated animal, as seriously as he would’ve treated a case in Sydney. He doesn’t seem to consider this demotion beneath him and he develops a real rapport with Hal. He’s the only one that really takes anything seriously and the deeper he digs the more he wonders what secret is being kept in this town. His ‘superior’ officer definitely knows more than he’s letting on and is almost doing backflips to order Mick to leave it alone, which makes Mick even more suspicious. Mick also has quite a few personal demons that plague him throughout the story as well. His dogs are really all he has in Moorabool. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d have been able to get up every day and go to work to be treated like a nuisance who doesn’t know anything, like Mick was but obviously he knows and wants nothing else than to be a cop. He is clever, he listens, he doesn’t let things go.

There’s a lot to his backstory that is yet to be filled in so if this ends up being a series, I’m sure there’s ample opportunity in the future to explore more of Mick’s Sydney career as well as what awaits him. I found him a very intriguing type, one that could easily carry more books. I enjoyed the way that this played out and thought that the author handled various topics such as racism, sexism, rural policing in a way that felt uncomfortably real.


Book #158 of 2020

2 responses to “Review: The Night Whistler by Greg Woodland

  1. I thought this was an impressive debut as well.

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