Wednesday, 3 February 2010


The world-weariness displayed by Stephen Villani, head of homicide in Melbourne's police, is a more direct, Australian version of the kind of dismay police work brings to detectives in Scandinavia (Wallender, Hole, Erlender) or Britain (Resnick, Faraday, Thorne). In Peter Temple's claustrophobic novel Truth, the feeling is somehow closer to the American, but it's not so much the sense of trying to fight against an implacable wall of crime, which produced in work as varied as Joseph Wambaugh's or The Wire a kind of black humour and a portrait of dysfunctional personal lives. In Temple's case, it's more the feeling of running through sticky treacle, as the sugar-coating of Melbourne's super-structure starts to melt before your very eyes. It's not just the metaphor of the out-of-control forest fires which threaten to consume Villani's father's house; Truth is primarily a story of corruption, of areas where truth matters and where it doesn't, where playing with it can be fatal, to a person or a relationship, and where an attitude of  'economy with the actualite' is no problem at all, not even in the face of a murder investigation. 

The murder victim is an anonymous hooker; her body is found in a new prestige apartment block whose developers are well connected. There's political change on the way in Victoria, and the police are a political football. Meanwhile, Villani's marriage has reached its own melt-down point; he's begun an affair with a popular newscaster, and his younger daughter has run away with druggies, and soon points the finger of scandal at her largely-absentee dad. 

It's a mark of the genre that much of that synopsis seems not at all unusual, but what makes Truth stand out is the density of Temple's prose, which at time reads like a concentrated kind of stream of consciousness, jumping between present and past. This winds up making Villani a character as deep, as complicated, and as flawed as the city he's policing. In the end, the flexibility of truth, and the willingness (or unwillingness) of people to believe or disbelieve truth is what defines them, defines loyalty and betrayal, and makes the book's conclusion seem downbeat even when the overall result is positive for Villani. Because that's what the truth really is. An excellent book, which makes me want to turn immediately to Temple's previous novel about Melbourne's police, The Broken Shore. 

Truth by Peter Temple Quercus £12.99 ISBN 9781849161534


Anonymous said...

I agree: great book, but Villani only appears as a minor character in The Broken Shore (not Farthest). Cheers!

Michael Carlson said...

Thanks! I've made the correction. My subconscious must have assumed all Australian shores are farthest like Ro9bert Hughes'....