Truth, By Peter Temple

Murder and meltdown in Melbourne
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The Independent Culture

Readers like nothing better than to proselytise to friends about a little-known author they have discovered. Publishers, however, have no time for such concepts as "deserving to be better known". They just want their authors out in the marketplace, well known and selling by the shed-load.

It must be particularly irksome for Quercus to have the prodigally talented South African-born, Australian-resident Peter Temple in their list. He is one of the world's most respected literary crime novelists, with a back catalogue of considerable distinction. And they will also be aware that he has yet to make the breakthrough in the UK that he so deserves. Temple enjoys good reviews but modest sales. The situation is very different in Australia, where he enjoys the success that is his due. Will this new novel bring about that long-overdue British recognition?

Stephen Villani has, to outward appearances, made a success of his life. He is the head of the homicide division in Melbourne and his unbending dedication to duty has put him at the top. But Villani is a divided, damaged man whose attitude to his father is deeply ambiguous. The cracks in his private life begin to spread when a series of fires ravage Melbourne and a murder case becomes the catalyst for Stephen's meltdown. The investigation is subsumed in a series of personal crises.

Interestingly, the jacket comparisons here opt not for the customary James Lee Burke and James Ellroy, but JM Coetzee and Tom Wolfe. If this seems a little vainglorious, Temple's writing is always terse and economical, demonstrating that these two non-crime novelists are indeed apt models. In Truth, Temple's conflicted, self-destructive protagonist is set down in a mordant evocation of a city in crisis. In fact, Villani's divided soul is presented (in understated fashion) as a metaphor for the society in which he lives, with the capacity for organic regeneration as elusive for the city as for the man. Temple's award-winning The Broken Shore was good; this is better.

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