Dark Country (Dungirri #2)
2012 (originally 2009), 391p
Read from my TBR pile
Morgan ‘Gil’ Gillespie has been away from the small country town of Dungirri for a long time. Given most of the population believe he’s a murderer and that he didn’t serve long enough in jail for his crime, it’s no real surprise to him that there’s no warm welcome. But Gil is back to help someone that helped him at a time he desperately needed it and if that stirs up the locals, so be it. He owes someone and he always pays his debts.
When he is driving into town, he meets the local police sergeant bogged off the country road. He ends up giving her a lift back into Dungirri and they cross paths later on that night after a brawl at the local pub puts Gil in her station as she keeps an eye on him for concussion. The nearest hospital is 60kms away so Kris Matthews takes it upon herself to give Gil somewhere to sleep and she checks on him constantly. Turns out, that saves Gil’s bacon.
The next morning investigators from the city arrive and find the dead body of a woman in Gil’s car. Kris knows he didn’t do it – she saw the boot of his car last night when he offered her a lift and it was perfectly clean. He also spent most of the night either with her, or seen by others at the local pub so she becomes his alibi. Gil has a pretty good idea of who is out to get him and that this murder was a warning and that he’s going to be next. But he’s going to have to battle organised crime, police corruption, his reputation and his growing attraction for a red headed police sergeant and he may still not get out alive.
Prior to this I’d only read one of Bronwyn Parry’s romantic suspense novels set in country New South Wales, which was Dead Heat and I loved it. With the release of her latest book Darkening Skies recently, which is the third Dungirri book, I thought I might give the other two a look before I read that one. I found this one pretty cheap and although they are linked by the town, they can be read as stand alone novels.
There’s nothing like having the local police officer as your alibi and that’s what happens to Gil after barely 12 hours back in Dungirri when all of a sudden city detectives descend upon him and search his car, finding a dead body inside – the body of a woman Gil knew and warned to get out of town. It seems she didn’t heed the warning and now Gil finds himself being questioned extensively by the police, even though Kris has vouched for him saying he couldn’t possibly have had time to kill anyone between her placing things in his boot when he gave her a lift and seeing him again later that night when a brawl broke out at the local pub. Gil doesn’t want Kris to get involved because he knows what’s going on and exactly what he’s gotten himself into. It stems back in Dungirri and a protection racket and organised crime ring. They think Gil has something that one of them in particular, the new ‘boss’ needs and they’re going to stop at nothing to get it. They’ll kidnap and threaten his colleagues, kill people, torture him. All until he gives up what they think he has.
But it seems they didn’t bank on the investigative skills of Sergeant Kris Matthews who makes it pretty plain that she believes in Gil’s innocence and that also, she wants to get to the bottom of exactly what’s going on. The more time Gil and Kris spend together, the more the attraction between them builds. Gil sees them as utterly different – he’s the one the town loathes, because they believe his irresponsible ways killed one of their own. His father was a no good drunk and as far as most are concerned, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Kris came to town well after Gil left so she has none of those prejudices and she can see for herself what sort of a man Gil is. He’s had it hard, of that there is no doubt, and he’s been mixed up in a thing or two but he’s fought his way out of it to get where he is today, standing on the right side of the law but with those on the other side coming after him. She wants to help him, especially when it looks like quite a lot of it might be coming from her own backyard.
Gil is my very favourite sort of character – that sort of bad-boy, rough around the edges, traumatic past, is-he-or-isn’t-he-bad? I loved his interactions with Kris – as a redhead, I’ve been called Blue on and off for most of my life (it’s one of the ‘affectionate’ nicknames I prefer, particularly against the rising popularity of ‘ranga’ these days) and so I liked his little tendency to reference her hair. This novel is very much about the crime and suspense, which is excellently done. I loved the whole story and the way in which Bronwyn Parry teased it out and with it, more and more of Gil’s past and his character. But I also liked the little hints of romance between Gil and Kris. It was never going to take over, but it simmers enough there in the background. I think that perhaps this book didn’t show the town in its best light at first, given how hostile they are towards Gil (they believe they have their reasons and Gil doesn’t discourage this thinking) so I’m looking forward to the other two in the series to get a bit more of an idea of it.
This is a great thriller, further cementing Bronwyn Parry as a master of the rural romantic suspense and a definite auto-read for me.
Book #256 of 2013
Dark Country is book #93 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013