Book review: Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald

Sunday, March 29, 2020 Permalink

I LOVE Fleur McDonald’s Dave Burrows series’. And yes, that apostrophe is meant to be there—I think—cos there are two of them. In case you’ve been living under a rock, McDonald is basically releasing books in two timeframes as if we’re in some weird Sliding Doors-like timewarp thingy.

In addition to an interrelated series set in the present, which features Burrows though he’s not always the headline act, McDonald takes us back in time a couple of decades (kicking off in the late 1990s) to Burrows’ early years as a cop.

Book review: Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonaldRed Dirt Country
by Fleur McDonald
Series: Detective Dave Burrows #3
Published by Allen & Unwin AU
on 31/03/2020
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural
ISBN: 9781760529291
Pages: 386

Recovering from an undercover case in outback Queensland, Dave Burrows finally returns to Perth, to join his pregnant wife, Melinda, and their small daughter, Bec. Things have been off-kilter between Mel and Dave for some time and nothing he says or does seems to make it right. Once Dave starts waking violently in the dark nights, reliving the horrors of the Queensland job, Mel issues an ultimatum.

But Dave's work, despite its dangers, means everything to him. He's finally achieved his long-held dream and is now a Detective Senior Constable in the stock squad. And as soon as his shoulder wound is declared fully healed, Dave jumps into an investigation of stock theft in the north of Australia. There's a standoff between two stations and a history of disappearances and grief to uncover.

It's also a long way away from his problems with Mel.

With the prospect of going back to Queensland to give evidence as a protected witness, a dangerously ruthless enemy on the loose, and a family to protect, Dave's first experience on the stock squad is deep in an underbelly of racial divide with family secrets, long-repeated lies, kidnapping and murder.

These books (present and past Dave) are go-to reads for me. I’ve not missed one of either series. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, IF you’ve read the current series you’re kinda privy to his life trajectory, so we know what’s gonna happen. It doesn’t matter though because here it’s all about the journey rather than the destination.

Dave was shot at the end of the last book (Without a Doubt) when he was undercover and this picks up where it left off. You don’t need to have read that book before though as McDonald is easily able to recap events. And… Burrows is off on a fresh new adventure here, having finally joined his beloved Stock Squad.

After a quick flick through my previous reviews I can see a recurring theme in this series has been Dave’s underestimation of his boss. Perhaps it’s a ‘young-buck’ thing (I’m smirking at my pun-like reference there but not actually sure a buck is actually a farm animal and can’t be bothered checking). Either way… he tends to make (negative) assumptions and judgements about his older (and old school) bosses and they don’t always turn out to be correct.

Again, McDonald does a great job putting us in Dave’s head and here he’s returning from sick leave and eager to get back into work, despite having unfinished business from his previous case.

His complex (and mostly unhappy) relationship with his pregnant wife continues here as well as the conflict with in-laws who have moved to be closer. Although McDonald progresses that plot somewhat and offers readers a slightly different take on the situation which I appreciated.

I enjoyed the ‘mystery’ or whodunit at the centre of this book. I didn’t really notice until writing this review that it didn’t involve a murder (as such). It’s theft (and some sabotage) and I recall wondering why Dave doesn’t find the Stock Squad and cattle rustling thing to be a bit of an anticlimax after working murders and the like. Though of course I guess if he wanted murder and mayhem he’d work in Perth rather than on its outskirts servicing the outback.

As usual McDonald’s understanding of farming life is obvious and the setting and events unfolding in the background effortlessly drawn. As in other books in this series, she reflects on different farming techniques and changing technology. Here we meet Kevin, a young man who’s taken over a farm run by an Indigenous organisation, originally supported by government. He’s clashing with the Elders, but it’s obvious he’s making a success of the farm and a difference to his community.

But cattle go missing and fingers are pointed, and it seems long-buried secrets are being unearthed. Kinda literally.

Of course things aren’t as they seem and I really enjoyed the twists McDonald introduces here and we’re reminded that it’s easy to trust the wrong people and it’s often gut feeling or experience that tells us different.

This is another great book in this series and McDonald leaves us on the edge of our seat as we await where we go next.

Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and available from 31 March 2020.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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