Tag Archives: Peter Temple

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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What the writer pictures isn’t always what the reader sees

Stephen King says: Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

I agree that it’s good to leave something to the reader’s imagination. In The Broken Shore, when Peter Temple writes: She left, tried to slam the door but it wasn’t that kind of door, I don’t think we need ten flowery lines of detail to know what kind of door it was. However, specific details are needed if it’s important to the story for the reader to get it right.

I recieved feedback recently that a scene of my writing was confusing because there were two guys in flannel shirts at the ‘dead celebrities party’. What? I must have made a mistake (copied instead of cut before pasting). I reread what I’d written and, no, only the guy dressed as Jeff Buckley was wearing a flannel shirt (described, as it is important for the reader to get the right picture of this character). ‘Kurt Cobain’ was also at the party, but I gave no description of him. I left it to the reader – obviously, I thought, he’d be wearing that stripy Teen Spirit sweater – because it didn’t matter as he is a minor character in this scene. The confusion came from my reader picturing ‘Kurt’ also in a flannel shirt. Two guys in flannel shirts = confusing.

I did a quick survey of ten people to see what they imagined somebody would wear as a Kurt Cobain costume to a dead celebrities party. I’m still not sure if I should rewrite the scene to include a wardrobe description of a minor character, but the survey answers were interesting (only one said a flannel shirt):

  • Blue-and-white flannel or green miller shirt over an iconic t-shirt (maybe Kiss or Wal-mart) or blue-and-white striped long-sleeved t-shirt .
  • A cardy.
  • Ripped jeans with a patch or two, black low-cut sneakers with a white toe, like Converse.
  • Messy, grungy, blond hair, and green stripy t-shirt and jeans.
  • Dyed blond, bestubbled goatee; black (navy?)-and-white horizontal, striped long sleeve t-shirt and blue jeans; white, thick-rimmed ovoid sunnies.
  • A striped jumper.
  • A woman’s dress, which he wore in the clip for In Bloom. Obviously the hair is important.
  • Black, tight t-shirt and stonewash jeans.
  • Leather jacket, jeans, bare feet, no shirt.
  • A beanie.

If the reader does not conjure exactly what the writer intended, does it matter (unless it’s important for the scene/story)? Does it matter what the guy dressed as Kurt Cobain wore to the dead celebrities party (as long as it wasn’t a flannel shirt)? Even if the reader has him sans shirt and donning a beanie!

Kurt Cobain Teen Spirit sweaterKurt Cobain black jacketKurt Cobain headbangers ball gown