Friday, December 2, 2011
The Crime Review - Truth by Peter Temple
Inspector Steve Villani's job as the head of the Victoria Police Homicide Squad is bathed in blood and sorrow. Incapable of constancy as a father and husband, damaged as a son, his life is his work. It is his identity, his calling, his touchstone. Now, over a few sweltering summer days his soul is about to be laid bare.
I wasn't handed this book to review by 'Mean Streets', I've had it sitting on my shelf for a good twelve months now and it had got partially buried by new stuff that I'd accumulated, but it hadn't been reviewed on here and presumably it wasn't going to be at this late stage. I dug it out from memory on seeing that Temple has his fourth 'Jack Irish' novel being re-released around now at an absolutely absurd price on Kindle.
I am a fan of Temple, let me say that from the outset, and what drove me to review this was partly because I'd decided to talk about it on my own blog, and partly because it had received mixed reviews, indeed on Amazon it had received all the marks from 1 to 5.
The 'Jack Irish' novels are superb, as are the stand alone novels such as 'In the Evil Day' and 'The Broken Shore'. I haven't read much other Australian crime fiction, so can't really compare this bloke to his countrymen, though I have a feeling it would be a hard task looking at the awards he has received in his own country.
'Truth' has won the Miles Franklin award, which I'll admit means nothing to me, but the book itself certainly did. Some reviewers called the book 'grim', some 'hard work', but I found it neither. Once I started it drew me in, hook, line and sinker. The author's description of its setting is superb. He uses language in its most descriptive form, as one reviewer pointed out some sentences bordered on long in their wording, but Temple always gets the point home, and from a writer myself that detests editing to a large degree, this is polished to perfection.
The longer sentences I didn't notice and they had to be pointed out; it was more the short, almost staccato lines that really took me into the story. Almost Ellroy-esque (who I've always enjoyed but not read for a long time) but without the racism controversy. The dialogue is crisp, almost fatalistic between the police in their daily grind, and the feeling of almost being swept away with the tide is superbly put across.
Villani is a minor character in the 'Irish' novels, and also 'The Broken Shore', whose lead character, Joe Cashin, used to be a colleague. He is a complex character, not a true hero in the sense of the word in any way, which also interested me as it is a similar trait to a character I am writing a book on currently. Another writer once told me that it was very hard to create a flawed hero, somebody about whom it is touch and go whether he can be loved, but if it is done well then it can be a very strong focal point. That is Villani to a tee. Indeed I could argue that the real hero in this book is the understated, coloured ex-federal detective returning to duty after being shot, by the name of Dove, who has to overcome all prejudices set in his path.
Villani's marriage is falling apart. His wife works away and he is convinced that she is having affairs. He doesn't particularly moralise on this point as he himself is adulterous, but until his eyes are opened he does blame her more for the children's problems, one of whom he is convinced isn't his anyway. The marriage has been a sham for some time, just ships passing in the night, his children knowing he is wrapped up in his work, not really listening or paying attention to them.
He blames his poor parenting qualities on the lack of his mother being around, and the fact that his ex-soldier father would work away all week, leaving him, at twelve years old, to look after his two younger brothers. He never felt loved, compared to the other two, never felt he got the credit he deserved. He slowly realises that his people skills are shot, something he blames on his father who seems to resent him being a cop, and he detests the fact that he can't live up to his fathers demands, seen through both their eyes.
His superiors play politics above him, warning him away from certain lines of enquiry on a murder case that arrives on his desk in a prestigious new building. He has to make choices, whether to further his career or to stand against the corruption spiralling around him. Whilst this goes on, bush fires surge towards his fathers farm, threatening to extinguish all life in their path. Villani struggles to comprehend all this as his marriage continues to disintegrate and one of his daughters turns against him.
The pace and helplessness that surround Villani and lead him towards his inevitable doom, as his world crashes around him brick by brick, are astoundingly put into words. Anybody who is a parent will feel a chill go down their spine as they see this man stripped naked against the storm that engulfs him, facing every parents worst nightmare, as he struggles to walk on into the wind. All he has left is that he is a man, nothing more.
In reality, I can see why 'Truth' has received mixed reviews, as I think it is different things to different readers. To me it is a battle for the man of our times. Temple's publishers compared the book to JM Coetzees 'Disgrace', which one reviewer ridiculed (I haven't read it) but it is a book that makes you think when you put it down, 'what if?' Surely that's what its all about? I would say that anyone disliking this book has more problems recognising the human frailties involved, than having problems with the book itself.
I can give this book no higher review than 'superb', and I would recommend it to anyone, though for anyone that ever feels they've let their children down, read it with nothing stronger than a glass of water.
Harry Bingham invited Neil Evans, a fan of crime fiction to contribute this review to Mean Streets Crime Fiction (http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/crimefiction/). The Writers' Workshop also offers feedback on writing (http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/services.asp).