Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Crime Beat

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Peter Temple’s novels feature in Mike Nicol’s crime wrap for Fine Music Radio

An Iron RoseBlack TideThe broken shoreBy special arrangement with FMR, Crime Beat posts Mike Nicol’s bimonthly wrap of crime novels.Today, he features the novels of Peter Temple – an Australia-based writer of local origin whose work merits more attention on local book shelves.

There must come a time when crime fiction readers, desperately searching for something new, sigh, oh no, not another police procedural. Not another Kay Scarpetta wannabe going through the forensic stuff. I have these moments frequently when I pick up a crime novel with a plodding first sentence and want to shout: isn’t there anyone out there with a sense of style? With a love of language. Usually there is no answer. But sometimes there is.

Like this:

‘In the late autumn, down windy streets raining yellow oak and elm leaves, I went to George Armit’s funeral. It was a small affair. Almost everyone George had known was dead. Many of them were dead because George had had them killed.’

I read the first sentence a couple of times before I read the whole paragraph. And when I’d finished reading the paragraph I knew that once again my prayers had been answered.

The author is a man called Peter Temple – who has a South African connection in that he was born here – but whose crime writing is firmly embedded in his adopted country, Australia.

Peter Temple’s crime novels are fairly recent, dating back to the mid-1990s. Until a few years ago he was one of crime fiction’s best kept secrets. And then suddenly Peter Temple was picked up by a UK publishing house and got the sort of international audience an author who can write – and there are few of them – deserves.

In the last ten years Peter Temple has won five Ned Kellys – the highest award for crime writing in Australia – and this year he won the Crime Writers Association’s prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger for the novel, The Broken Shore. Unfortunately The Broken Shore did not come in for review, but I shall track it down.

The three Peter Temple books that I asked for I read one after another with the kind of hunger that signals here is something wonderful. Yet I learn from Andrew Marjoribanks at Wordsworth Books that Peter Temple is hard to sell precisely because he’s new. The next Michael Connelly comes in and readers buy it because they know what they’re getting. And what they’re getting is highly readable but it is also more of the same.

So if you’re adventurous, if you’re a real enthusiast for the genre, get hold of a Peter Temple.

The paragraph I quoted opens the novel Black Tide. This features a suburban lawyer Jack Irish – a truly great creation who isn’t a drunk nor a druggie spiking himself with Voltarin, who is amusing, who might have sad love affairs but who has them anyhow, and who has a dogged persistence that one wants in a lawyer who acts more like a private investigator. There are four Jack Irish books, Bad Debts, Dead Point and White Dogs being the other three.

Black Tide is the most recent in that it was published in Australia in 1999 and has just come out internationally. In short, it’s about Jack doing a favour for an old friend of his father’s and in the process digging down into the netherworld of drug money and arms deals and CIA mavericks and ‘the good old boys from Manila’ who are anything but good. This is stylish, humorous crime writing at its best that also features some wonderful asides on carpentry and horse racing. It’s the sort of book you don’t want to end.

So is An Iron Rose. This one features ex-cop MacArthur John Faraday – Mac for short – who has opted out of cop life to make a quiet living as a country blacksmith. Temple has a thing about his protagonists being craftsmen. There are memorable descriptions of Mac going about his metal work and some equally telling ones of Mac playing footy for the local team.

Set against this domestic bliss is a story both horrible and deadly. As Mac starts questioning the apparent suicide of his best friend he turns up a decay that festers at the heart of the local community and has tendrils reaching into higher circles. Again, Peter Temple’s concern is less with personal deviancy, more about social malfunctioning.

The third Temple novel, In The Evil Day, is a thriller, less successful for me than the other novels because the plot was unnecessarily labyrinthine but still a book worth reading for the characterisation and the dialogue and the action. The opening chapter which is set in Johannesburg will become a classic of that city and, in a way, sets a bench mark for local thrillers.

So if you’re looking for something different try any one – or better still, all – of these Peter Temple books.

They are Black Tide, An Iron Rose and In The Evil Day (published by Quercus).