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09 June 2014

Geoffrey McGeachin: The Diggers Rest Hotel: A Charlie Berlin mystery

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Start of a great Australian crime series
After reading and enjoying ST KILDA BLUES which was released last month I was keen to read the two previous books in the Charlie Berlin series. I was not disappointed with this first book in the series as it gave me a better understanding of Berlin's history as a Melbourne detective shortly after he had returned from WWII.

During the war Charlie Berlin was the pilot of a Lancaster bomber shot down on his 40th mission over Germany. As a POW he saw the devastation of war up close especially when his starving group of POW's were passed by a group of emaciated Jews. His memory and especially his dreams will never forget the Jewish woman who was executed in front of him by an SS guard.

Charlie is sent from Melbourne to assist the Wodonga police with the investigation of a series of payroll robberies by "five blokes wearing balaclavas and carrying Tommy guns, riding jungle-green Harley Davidsons with sidecars". This certainly isn't your normal bush town robbery and Charlie is rushed there by plane - a stressful experience because it is the first time he has flown since being shot down over Berlin.

When he arrives in Wodonga he stays at the Diggers' Rest Hotel, a typical bush town hotel with a range of great local characters. As well as meeting young Constable Bob Roberts, his driver, and the local police sergeant (who is not too happy with the imposed assistance), Charlie soon comes face to face with Rebecca Green, a photo journalist with a Melbourne newspaper who is following the story of the robberies. Charlie and Rebecca's paths will always be close as the case develops.

An interesting feature of this book is how McGeachin makes Charlie's investigations almost ancillary to the character development and background settings of the book. The descriptions of Australia after the war, especially the returned servicemen with PTSD still haunted by the memories of war were emotional and telling. The descriptions of rural Australia, Albury/Wodonga and the Diggers Rest Hotel gave an extremely authentic picture of that time.

THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL was the winner of the 2011 Ned Kelly Award by the Australian Crime Writers' Association. It is a great introduction to a talented Australian crime writer and well recommended. I will make sure that I read #2 BLACKWATTLE CREEK in the near future.

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