Vale Peter Temple

Where does Steve Villani go now? Will Joe Cashin be all right? What happens to Jack Irish? And what about Paul Dove’s story?

We (Peter Temple fans) have been waiting a long time for his next book but, sadly, it will never be. I did not know Peter Temple personally; I knew little about his life, and nothing of his illness towards the end. I am not entitled to the grief I feel. The tears that fall on my keyboard as I write this are irrational.

Of course, this mourning is not for the man I didn’t know — it is for his words. Temple’s books are more than ‘just books’ to me — they are connected to memories of times and places, they are a part of my life. They are the stories I have reached for during tough times. The ones that have travelled with me. Brought joy and comfort. Old friends.

Peter Temple sat on my bookshelf for a long time before I read him. I remember my partner telling me ‘You have to read The Broken Shore.’ I turned up my nose — I used to be one of those I don’t read crime fiction people. I also ignored Truth when it came out. ‘But you’ve got to read this one!’ my partner said. ‘He introduces 24 characters seamlessly in two pages.’ [This might be an exaggeration, but I’m too sad to count them now.]

I can’t remember why I eventually picked up Truth. Perhaps its Miles Franklin win, perhaps to stop my partner nagging … We had just moved to Northcote, our third child was still a baby sleeping in her bassinet beside me while I read in bed. ‘Oh my fucking God, this is the best book I’ve ever read!’ [If you have read any of my previous posts, you will know I am prone to exaggeration — but at the time, this was true.] I think I might have shouted it out, and woken the baby. And to my partner: ‘Why didn’t you make me read this sooner?’

I remember where I was when reading most of Temple’s books. Sitting in the car, early for kindergarten pick-up, with An Iron Rose — laughing out loud every time the Scottish character pronounced Mac’s name Moc [I’m still not sure why that’s so funny to me]. Struggling to write Please Don’t Leave Me Here in a hotel room (‘the box in the sky’ p256 Truth) in Surfers Paradise with Truth — looking down on the same beach where Villani goes surfing in an attempt to recapture his youth, but only ends up humiliated. Struggling far more to write Dead in the Water, reading The Broken Shore at night — in bed at Raymond Island.

I read The Broken Shore obsessively (and exclusively; some close to me might say ‘madly’) for a while — over and over, I couldn’t tell you how many times, dissecting every sentence. I’ve read Truth maybe only four or five times, and I still have to steel myself every time [spoiler alert] I get to the scene where Detective Inspector Villani, emotionless, sees the body of his drug-addicted daughter dead in a dirty alley way. And I always cry when Villani — in the next chapter — shows his pain.

… He sipped and a tear ran down his nose. He began to weep. For a while, he wept in silence and then he began to sob, softly at first, and then louder and louder.
   It came to him that he had never cried out loud in his life. It was as if he were singing for the first time. (p355 Truth)

How would I describe Temple’s writing? Unique — shades of Raymond Chandler perhaps, but there’s really nothing I can compare it to. Not one unnecessary word. Tough, terse, colloquial. Possibly a little too blokey for some. Precise as a surgeon’s knife, but also poetic.

Temple’s characters are far more important than his plots (for me anyway). He wheedled the crime genre to tell stories about family, friendship and love. Stories about society, politics and human frailty. Stories full of grit and blood, of pain and loss, but not without humour or hope.

We will never see the likes of Peter Temple again. Please go and read one of his books now — even if you are one of those I don’t read crime fiction people.

A morning of sunlight on the round winter hill, above it cloud strands fleeing inland, and the wind on the long grass, annoying it, strumming it.
   A bark at the door, another, more urgent, the dogs taking turns. He let them in and they surrounded him and he was glad to have them and to be there. (p345 The Broken Shore)

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