It was only recently that the term "Desert Noir" started to denote a new and acutely Australian genre of crime fiction. Authors like Jane Harper and Chris Hammer set their stories of unforgivable crimes against even less forgivable landscapes. Wherever a tragedy befell a luckless, introspective township, their geographical isolation always underscored their psychological one.
Newcastle crime writer Lee Christine isn't much interested in the dry, arid scrublands of the outback. Her most recent work, Dead Horse Gap, is the third in a series that has collectively been earmarked as belonging to, if not inventing, an even newer genre of crime fiction. If you ever thought dropping the term Desert Noir might signify your literary hipness, then you could otherwise try one that's now even fresher - Alpine Crime.
If you then want to share a story that weaves a suspenseful detective investigation around a mysterious intra-family feud then bring along a copy of Dead Horse Gap. It's a mystery in which figures hibernate shyly beneath the ice; or else glow and then vanish like a snow gum in the climbing twilight.
For an author who has spent almost her entire life in coastal Newcastle, the blustery atmosphere of the Snowy Mountains might not immediately seem like an obvious inspiration for a series of crime novels. Yet it takes only moments when talking to Christine to appreciate how connected she has become to the wild and untamed beauty of the region.
"I live here by the sea in Newcastle but I gravitate towards the mountains," she explains. "I've always loved the area. It's rugged and tough. The weather can change so quickly and it's full of dangerous terrain with all of its peaks and granite boulders."
Into the fabric of this unforgiving landscape is where Christine carefully sews her own luckless and introspective characters. When a prominent local family loses their son, detectives Ryder and Flowers team up with Nerida Sterling - an undercover operative whose own safety and anonymity are soon to come under a creepy and menacing threat.
The difficulty of their investigation reflects the environment in which it's conducted. In a sleepy little village, where a frosty silence lingers at the best of times, nobody's in the mood to reveal their secrets.
Like the first two books in the series, featuring Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder and set in the Snowy, the effectiveness of the third instalment owes itself to two interrelated sources of Christine's knowledge. As familiar as she is with the physical area, it's inherent to the suspense in Dead Horse Gap that the author is just as familiar with the historical and psychological environments.
"The people in the mountains are resilient and tough. And when I say tough I mean in a good way," says Christine. "There are all sorts of different characters down there. There are the itinerant workers. There are the Snowy Hydro workers who helped achieve one of the greatest engineering feats in the world. All of these elements make it such an interesting area. I think the setting and the landscape are perfect for a crime novel.
"A lot of writers who write fiction novels create their own worlds - their own towns, villages and cities. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to set my books in a real place. Obviously Charlotte Pass, my first book in this series, is set in a real place. The second book, Crackenback, is set in Thredbo. Dead Horse Gap is also set in Thredbo but primarily in Khancoban."
Not yet ready to retire Detective Ryder, or even those that work alongside him, Christine has, however, decided to leave her beloved mountain setting behind for the time being.
"My next book, the one that I'm writing at the moment, is set in Newcastle. It will be the first crime novel that I've set here," she says.
"The reason I'm setting it here is that the place itself, and the people who live here, are those that I know best. I was born and bred here. I know so much about its history and I'm learning more and more all the time."