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ARRESTING FICTION FROM DOWN UNDER

Garry Disher's fourth crime novel is a dark page-turner.

Chain of Evidence, Garry Disher's fourth Hal Challis-Ellen Destry police procedural, again involves sex, but where 2005's Snapshot focused on wife swapping, Chain targets pedophilia. It's darker than Snapshot; more complicated, too, and just as engrossing. Disher builds his books carefully, creating inexorable tension. They're slow reads you can't put down.

Here, Inspector Challis and Sgt. Destry follow separate trails. Though they've never been lovers, they'd like to be and work well on the same police force in south Australia, where Disher grew up. Challis is off work, looking into the death of his brother-in-law while visiting his dying father. Destry, meanwhile, is housesitting for him and investigating the abduction of 10-year-old Katie Blasko, one of several kids who have gone missing from Waterloo, one of the small communities Disher sketches so well.

Challis and Destry solve their respective crimes, but there are challenges. With Challis, the hurdle is dealing with a home you've outgrown and an affair that never developed. Destry's task is sterner: investigating her own police force and acknowledging that even in the seamiest and most corrupt families there's a vein of honor. Disher has a keen eye for class distinctions, too: Laurie Jarrett, patriarch of the most powerful, most dangerous and trashiest family in the area, may have integrity after all.

A Disher thriller is like a cup of strong coffee, bitter but savory, as in Destry's response to Superintendent McQuarrie, whom she detests:

"He sounded cocky and provocative. He was the kind of man who hated and feared women - the hate and the fear being one and the same thing, really, for he hated women that they made him fear them. She said nothing, but a kind of black light suffused her. If he'd been there with her, she'd have struck him."

Fascinating how Destry gets her man. Read the book to find out which one.

Carlo Wolff is a freelance writer from Cleveland and the author of "Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories."

Chain of Evidence

By Garry Disher

Soho Crime, 360 pages, $23

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