“Truth” by Peter Temple

Readers who first came to read Peter Temple through his very popular and lyrical “Broken Shore” may be a little surprised with “Truth” – I am one of those - I was surprised that is -but then not disappointed.

“Truth” features Inspector Villani, chief of the Victorian homicide squad who was a Melbourne based senior colleague of Joe Cashin in the earlier, novel which was set in a sylvan Victorian country setting. This one by contrast takes place almost wholly in the urban setting or at least it feels like that.

It is a tough uncompromising style of cop novel. There are a couple of gruesome murders being investigated by Villani and his squad. Along the way there are several compromising issues and incidents involving the inspectors and their seniors. Villani himself, is faced with leadership issues, moral questions and a series of major personal versus career crises – with his wife, daughters, brother and father for starters. It is realism plus and all takes place over a relatively short period of a week or even less It is packed with detail brought out with terse dialogue and in depth backgound detail - a movie almost in the making I think.

On the dialogue which is a special feature of the novel’s style – one cannot help but note how terse and realistic and probably authentic it is. I found I needed to read very carefully to keep up with what was going on in the different scenarios and to understand the conversations between the police especially. Temple makes no compromises - he has said that he likes to challenge the reader and indeed he does. You have to literally sit in on conversations – and work out was has gone on before between the conversationalists; fill in the dots; remember earlier references – a sort of literary and concentration puzzle - I think rewardingly so. Apparently his American publishers have requested and are getting a 200 words plus dictionary for the book in order to clarify the Victorian police patois for fans there. In this book especially Temple does remind us of some of the very best of American detective and thriller writers. I wonder, is Melbourne the new crime capital of the world?

I also liked the personal dilemmas Villani faced in this fast paced story involving his daughters, his superiors, his lover and especially with his father. The father is an idiosyncratic character who will not leave his semi rural property with the advent of nearby bushfires. Villani senior’s sons – the chief inspector and his doctor brother are involved in a remarkable series of scenes on this theme towards the end of the book. So there is plenty of personal, family interest throughout the novel along with the action. Villani is a well-drawn successful career policeman and maybe the authenticity of the writing holds up best in encapsulating for the reader what it is like to “live” an intense career like this. I think this is a very fine thriller which meets the criteria for being a work of literature.

What is the “Truth” herein? - Varied I think. The quickly realised truth at the end is a little stunner but then the realism of the book has conditioned you for it.