TRUTH, Peter Temple

Text Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-1-921520-71-6, 387 pages.

The publisher’s blurb:

At the close of a long day, Inspector Stephen Villani stands in the bathroom of a luxury apartment high above the city. In the glass bath, a young woman lies dead, a panic button within reach.

So begins Truth, the sequel to Peter Temple’s bestselling masterpiece, The Broken Shore, winner of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel.
Villani’s life is his work. It is his identity, his calling, his touchstone. But now, over a few sweltering summer days, as fires burn across the state and his superiors and colleagues scheme and jostle, he finds all the certainties of his life are crumbling.
Truth is a novel about a man, a family, a city. It is about violence, murder, love, corruption, honour and deceit. And it is about truth.

TRUTH is really only the sequel to THE BROKEN SHORE in the sense that one book follows another. Joe Cashin, the focal point of THE BROKEN SHORE, makes only an occasional appearance in TRUTH. But perhaps the “sequel-ness” lies in other things.

Stephen Villani is the head of the Victoria Police Homicide Squad, and this novel is about him as much as it is about the crimes his squad tries to solve. The primary rule that governs and ruins his life is HCF, the same rule that governed the life of his predecessor and role model Singo. HCF stands for Homicide Comes First, and for Villani it boils down to a dysfunctional family, including a 15 year old daughter out of control and somewhere out on the streets.

As Villani struggles to cope with the present his mind is filled with flashbacks, times when he and those around him have crossed the line, accepted handouts, called in favours, and at the same time tried to do right by victims of crime. Criminal investigations are hindered by political agendas, and Villani is feted, cajoled, flattered, and threatened by those who want him to sweep their secrets under the carpet. There is no doubting his power to do this if he wishes – he is after all the head of the Homicide Squad. Sure he answers to those higher up the feeding chain than he, but they like him live on the knife-edge of investigative success.

The media is always waiting for a slip, circling like sharks, ready for a feeding frenzy, ready to cut down the tall poppy. Villani’s career appears to be on the line several times during TRUTH.

Although the focus of TRUTH is Villani, and he and those around him question why they do this job, the central story is on a much broader canvas: Victoria in the grip of bushfires, a government teetering on the brink of an election, men with money and dreams, Villani’s own history and a forest that means almost more to him than anything else in the world.

Peter Temple is the master of a clipped and terse literary style, where dialogue feels like real conversation. There are times when he uses a word rather than a sentence, in some ways the style reminds me of a former Australian great – Patrick White.

I’m very glad to have begun 2010 with such a good book: my rating 5.0
It won’t surprise me if TRUTH is a standout nominee for the 2010 Ned Kelly Award.

Sites to check

I began 2006 and 2007 in a similar fashion when I gave Temple’s THE BROKEN SHORE a rating of 5 at the beginning of each year. Here are my mini reviews:

2006:
Joe Cashin was different once. He moved easily then; was surer and less thoughtful. But there are consequences when you’ve come so close to dying. For Cashin, they included a posting away from the world of Homicide to the quiet place on the coast where he grew up. Now all he has to do is play the country cop and walk the dogs. And sometimes think about how he was before. Then prominent local Charles Bourgoyne is bashed and left for dead. Everything seems to point to three boys from the nearby Aboriginal community; everyone seems to want it to. But Cashin is unconvinced. And as tragedy unfolds relentlessly into tragedy, he finds himself holding onto something that might be better let go.

2007:
(re-read) Joe Cashin was once a hot shot homicide detective in Melbourne. But he went with his gut feeling once too often and a young policeman ended up dead and Joe himself was left in critical condition. Now he has been sent to his home town, where nothing ever happens, to be in charge of a small police station, so that he can work while recuperating. A prominent local is bashed and left for dead in what appears to be a burglary gone wrong. All the signs point to local aboriginal youths and the town is only too ready to assume they are responsible. Bringing them in results in tragedy and Joe is suspended, but that doesn’t mean he stops working. 2005 Ned Kelly Award winner.