This is another assured and modest crime novel by Australian grandmaster Garry Disher, whose books are so enjoyable precisely because they lack even the slightest glimmer or pretension. In a genre that increasingly demands a killer hook boiled down to a single sentence, Disher’s focus is on character, and scalpel-sharp dissections of his selected themes.
The title of “The Way It Is Now” denotes the focus of his latest: the evolution of society and its attitudes during the 20 years of Charlie Deravin’s career with the police. When it opens in January 2000 he’s new on the job, managing the fallout of the disintegration of his parents’ marriage, and working in tandem with his brother to evict his mother’s creepy housemate. Soon after, with Charlie embroiled in the police search for a missing school boy, his mother disappears. She is eventually assumed dead, and Charlie’s father is deemed the likeliest suspect, though nothing is ever proved.
Almost two decades later, at the end of 2019, Charlie has moved back into his father’s old house in Menlo Beach, his childhood home. Disgraced and suspended from the police for striking a fellow officer and siding with a juror threatened by the allies of a football star accused of rape, he starts picking at the thread of his mother’s cold case while navigating the capitulation of his own marriage, and his burgeoning relationship with the juror. All the while, a pair of crime podcasters are digging into his family’s past, and skeletal remains are excavated at a nearby site.
I was less involved in the mystery here than I was in Charlie’s life; his new reality without a badge and uniform; forced to confront his legacy of personal trauma. Long-simmering grievances come to the fore as Charlie and his family grapple with the truth, in understatedly affecting scenes that compellingly bejewel the more plodding (but still enthralling) procedural elements.