The immediate comparison for a fan of American mystery fiction is to compare Hyland's writing to that of the late lamented Tony Hillerman, who wrote highly readable and well informed mystery novels set in and around the Navajo lands of the Southwest. Hyland is equally knowledgeable about the aboriginal people of Outback Australia, a part of the world he's lived in and where he's interacted with its native communities extensively.
Hyland provides the bridge to this world in the form of one Emily Tempest, daughter of a white miner and an aboriginal mother. As Moonlight Downs opens, Tempest has exhausted many of the possibilities open to her in white culture, having taken the Western route of college and travel, and now seeking a lost aspect of her identity, returns to Moonlight Downs, the ancestral home of her "mob". These aboriginal people are not her "skin group" by blood, as her deceased mother came from another part of the country, but they are her people by virtue of having grown up with them. Her essential question is, Is this my home?
As this is a murder mystery, that question gets derailed a bit by a killing early on, and Emily's relation to the victim combined with her feisty and determined nature drive her to pursue the killer. It's a well done who done it which I didn't figure out till near the story's resolution. But as with many of the mysteries and crime novels I read, it's the 'what else?' that really holds my interest. Hyland uses the genre to talk about the interaction of "whitefellas" and "blackfellas" and everyone in between in an area of Australia that might be best equated to an earlier version of the American "Wild West". As Hyland says in this interview, there is a fascinating mixture comprised of an ancient culture living by myths and dreamings residing side by side with the most recent of newcomers, many of whom have blown into this wild space like sand.
So there you have it--an engaging protagonist (and Hyland is a man who can write from a female perspective convincingly), an interesting terrain that he often takes the time to write a beautiful passage about, and a unique intersection of cultures. And there's even a sequel, Gunshot Road, to look forward to. I only have one question.
What the heck is spinifex?