Joe Cashin is a homicide detective on temporary secondment to his small Victorian coastal hometown after a rough case in the city. Out of Melbourne and back to his childhood stomping ground, he is running a one-man police station while his wounds literally heal and the nightmares fade. He knows the area, every family, every cop and criminal, life seems quiet but small. And then local elderly wealthy identity Charles Bourgoyne is found attacked and left for dead in his home.
Some months ago, I read a review for Peter Temple’s new book Truth, a companion novel to 2005’s The Broken Shore. Praising both novels, the review convinced me to add both to my list, starting with the older one. I started and finished The Broken Shore in a single evening, bought Truth immediately afterwards, and investigated other Temple novels to add to my list (particularly the Jack Irish series). This is a brilliant Australian crime novel.
Cashin is living in his old family property, now a ruin, with two dogs and an old fella of a neighbour who keeps his rough eye out for him. Amongst the querellous daily complaints of the locals and their paper, the assault on Bourgoyne stands out starkly. Three local indigenous boys are identified as the main suspects in the attack on Bourgoyne: they’re reported trying to sell his missing watch at a pawnbrokers up in Sydney. Very quickly the bosses in Melbourne, the chief and even the Minister for Police get involved: the area doesn’t have a great history with indigenous incarceration. Things rapidly escalate, and the book takes a surprising turn.
Cashin could be classed as an archetypal noir detective: a loss in his childhood, recent physical and psychological trauma, stubborn and a loner, not letting go of the investigation when all around him are calling case closed. There’s even a beautiful and interesting girl, who is a mystery and at first seems like the adversary. But this book is so much more than this description or the genre prompts you to expect.
This is a fully formed world: Cashin has a recent and childhood history that is never fully told. Each character has their own narrative that is revealed only for the sake of this story. There are sub-plots too that do contribute to the final culmination of the investigation but there are also allusions, passing mentions: there are so many characters in here that you know have their own history: you feel like there are so many possible off-shoots. And I suppose the new companion novel Truth might be one of them. Temple has developed a whole universe, and dipped into it just to tell this tale.
I also appreciated Temple’s writing style: hard won, dry. It was beautiful in its own, wind-blown way. This book is very Australian in a way I haven’t experienced before: this is not the beach life of Tim Winton’s world, or the bush of Don Watson. It is autumn coming on winter in an overgrown coastal town, coming to war with its new wealthy residents before it has even come to terms with its own indigenous community. It feels familiar and real. And all of this is understated, spare. The scenes of Cashin’s morning walks with his dogs are a particular delight.
This is a great novel, a brilliant crime thriller, a very Australian book. It is sparse, and clever. I loved it, and I cannot wait to read more of Temple’s work.