I’m sounding off Booklist‘s Mystery Month on a note that is, personally, both triumphant and mournful—imagine a military bugler playing a duet with a clown who only knows how to make the sad-trombone sound. Triumphant because, after a mere 20 months, I’ve completed my project of reading and rereading all 9 of Peter Temple’s novels. (I know that doesn’t sound particularly fast, but there were extenuating circumstances, such as reviewing forthcoming books.)
But I feel mournful because . . . well, no more new Peter Temple novels. And I still don’t know the reason there hasn’t been a new one in six years. Although, having read Truth (2010), I suspect that it may be simply that the author has done what he set out to do. This book is so good, I don’t know how he’d write a better one.
Another reason I feel a bit down is that this book is out of print in hardcover and paperback at a time when I want to tell crime-fiction fans to get their hands on it as soon as possible. Does your library have a copy? If so, check it out! If not, download the ebook, or order a second-hand copy from one of the many online retailers.
Here’s the beginning of my retrospective, Booklist Online Exclusive review:
Chief Inspector Stephen Villani, a supporting character in Temple’s magnificent novel The Broken Shore (2005), is called to the scene of a murder in a state-of-the-art high-rise in Melbourne. A young woman, possibly a prostitute, lies dead in a barren luxury apartment. Soon after, he surveys a far more gruesome scene: the corpses of three men, tortured, in a blood-soaked tin shed. There appears to be no connection.
Villani wears authority uneasily. As the complicated cases become politically sticky, he knows—and is outright told by his superiors—he should let his subordinates handle them to avoid contaminating himself with matters that touch the city’s high and mighty. He’s already being groomed for bigger things and has been strongly encouraged to get a better suit and smarter shoes. But if Villani were capable of following this advice, we’d have an entirely different novel.
In many ways this is the urban version of the rurally focused Broken Shore. That book’s protagonist, Joe Cashin, plays a small role here, and Paul Dove, an indigenous officer, plays a larger one. These crimes, and the search for their solution, are written as economically and exactingly as in Broken Shore or indeed anything Temple has done. What makes this novel the best book of his brilliant career is that crime is only half the story: Villani is the most complicated, convincing, and compelling character Temple has ever written.