Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland

Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland

Soho Press, 2008

Orignally published as Diamond Dove in Australia, 2006

Book 1 in the Emily Tempest series

Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel

Source:  library copy

Moonlight Downs takes place in the Northern Territory of Australia in both the camp of Moonlight Downs and the town of Bluebush.  Emily Tempest is a half-Aborigine, half-white woman who grew up on Moonlight Downs after her mother died when Emily was five years old.  She lived there with her father Jack until she was a teenager.  The book finds Emily returning to Moonlight Downs at age 26 after trying a handful of college degree programs and lots of different jobs.

Emily is a flinty, tough character who investigates the murder of her surrogate father and tribal leader Lincoln Flinders.  The investigation takes up much of the second half of the book, with the first half of the book more of an introduction to the area, the land, the characters, and their backgrounds.  It’s interesting stuff:  anthropology, geology (Emily’s dad is a miner, so she grew up identifying rocks, minerals, and crystals), and sociology.  Black-white relations are pretty horrid, and life in the bush as well as in the rough-and-tumble settlement of Bluebush isn’t pretty.

I enjoyed the first half of the book, which is Emily’s return Moonlight Downs and her mob, or tribe.  The actual resolution of the crime was not my favorite part of the book, in part because the conclusion is quite violent, which was a bit jarring.  I hope that the next book in the series spends more time on the crime and less time setting up the setting and characters.

Another review appears in International Noir.

I read this book as part of the Global Reading Challenge 2012.

9 thoughts on “Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland

  1. I liked this book a lot. I didn’t find the violence too disturbing as I think it probably reflects the harsh environment/way of life. I thought the character of Emily Tempest was wonderful and she gets better in the next book.

    • I’m looking forward to Gunshot Road. I didn’t mean to sound too harsh in my review. I think the violence was jarring for me because the first half of the book felt less action-packed since Hyland was introducing all the characters. Is he working on book three?

  2. I too loved this book (called Diamond Dove when I read it), particularly Emily Tempest. I am quite sensitive to violence in books but I don’t recall having a problem with this one, either – I don’t mind it if it fits in with the story and is not overdone/drawn out/added on in some clunky way, as is sadly too often the case. I recall thinking that the ending was weaker than the rest of the book. I am not sure if you’ll try his next (so far only) book in the series, Gunshot Road. I thought that was a better novel plot-wise, though there is some violence in it (but not, I think, gratuitous).

    • I agree with you about the violence in this book and generally, Maxine. (I cannot stand books with torture.) For a first book in a series, I think this was very good.

  3. I love this book and taught it in a first term seminar. Some (US) students had trouble following the Aussie slang and Aussie humor – and one international student was flummoxed entirely – but they all learned a lot from it and most enjoyed it. I was pleased with the amount of sensible discussion we had around land rights and social policies, which aren’t all that foreign to students living in Dakota and Ojibwe territory. The ending was especially interesting for discussion because of the way it combines the mystery with elements of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs.

    The sequel is terrific, too, but actually more violent and realistically so, which makes it more wrenching.

    • I’m glad it made for good discussions with your class, Barbara. I didn’t spend a lot of time researching the Land Act or Aboriginal beliefs before I wrote this review, but I think I will now since I don’t know much about either topic. I don’t read as closely as I used to in college, with the exception of books for book club 🙂

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